August 2005

Aug 29, 2021 | 911, GIS, Google

OK – lets drag up some old memories that are a bit cloudy. Lets flash back to 2005.

Back in 2005 I was working for the Feds. I think at that point I was toying with leaving and doing something else: consulting, working for another company, etc. Really I was in wanderlust mode at that point and the least interesting thing I was doing was my job.

I was watching Hurricane Katrina unfold on television. When at work I was watching all the news websites and when I got home it was news until I went to bed.

New Orleans, UNITED STATES: A plea for help appears on the roof of a home flooded in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, Louisiana, 04 September 2005. New Orleans began counting its dead 04 September as US troops turned to the gruesome task of harvesting bloated corpses from the hurricane-torn city’s flooded streets and homes. AFP PHOTO/POOL/Robert GALBRAITH (Photo credit should read ROBERT GALBRAITH/AFP/Getty Images)

One question I had when this was happening was “how are they handling this from a GIS perspective?” Web maps were sort of a thing. We had mobile data collectors. You can’t do squat without electricity. Like I said, I was Federal and if I was going out in the field I’m printing maps off and dragging them with me. I didn’t have a smart phone. Were there smart phones? I don’t remember actually. Seems like my first smart phone was 2011 and that one wasn’t that smart and I’m slow to adopt new tech.

Flash forward months, maybe even a year, and two things happened. I was sitting at a conference and a local community college from Mississippi was discussing their Katrina experience: Living in an RV, passing around USB sticks, making maps for rescue, stealing gas for the generator, and taking turns sleeping. It was pretty amazing – amazing enough I remember that talk 16 years later.

Seems like a few months after that we had an ESRI tech on site and we were chatting and he talked about how this new thing called Google Maps had caught them off guard. Google Earth was the one piece of software I remember from Katrina. The news was using it. Search and Rescue was using and it seems like there were some complaints the imagery had some offset – and really the answer was yes there are problems but this wasn’t intended for search and rescue. Imagery was updated while the disaster unfolded.

This morning I’m looking at Google Earth 16 years later.

My group hated Google Earth. Well – not so much hate it just didn’t understand it. We tried to force departments not to use it because the imagery didn’t come from us – and ultimately I think we hated it because it was so easy. We felt we weren’t needed if you could look at data/imagery easily. No one cared about accuracy or data lineage – double click and boom you were looking at something.

I spent this week updating Waverly TN in OpenStreetMap. How does OSM look for New Orleans? It’s pretty good. Waverly was flooded out last week with 17 or 18 inches of rain in a small amount of time. 20 something dead. It was messy.

Anyway – no profound vision or words of wisdom. Get out if you can. Keep an axe in the attic. Lets hope this plays out for the best and plan for the worst. Will it be different or will this be our keynote address at every GIS conference for the next year?

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