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Earthquake Response Project

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 Introduction         Project Overview         Project Organization         NPS Partners         Non-NPS Collaborators



Sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science & Technology Directorate, the Remote Sensing Center (RSC) at the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) has completed work on a pilot project that utilizes the unique technological resources and capabilities found at the RSC and NPS.

The project objective was to improve post-disaster response and recovery through the delivery and seamless integration of remotely-sensed data into existing emergency management operational frameworks. Research efforts were focused on Monterey County and the City of Monterey, California, where we expect that the remote sensing datasets and derived products used for this pilot study will provide a valuable source of geographic information in support of disaster response, and act as a prototype baseline for emergency planning, future change monitoring, and post-disaster event assessment and management. We also anticipate that the approaches, methods, and lessons learned from this project will provide a model for future regional and national disaster planning and response.

Project Overview: 

The NPS-DHS Earthquake Response Project required close coordination with emergency management agencies in order to dovetail their requirements with remote sensing capabilities.

Product development and data delivery methods were reviewed by NPS researchers in conjunction with State and local emergency management personnel against identified emergency response requirements in order to identify gaps between those requirements and emergency management capabilities and to recommend possible solutions to fill those gaps.

Products were iteratively refined throughout the project as required based on the reviews and feedback provided by emergency management officials.

Above: Overview of project goals.

Transition of research capabilities to operational capabilities for Monterey County and the City of Monterey was a significant project activity. RSC assisted emergency management agencies with incorporation of the most effective research products into their Concept of Operations (CONOPS).

A series of “Playbooks” was developed and delivered to inform emergency management personnel about the use of selected remote sensing and information products as well to help guide the local implementation of these products. Program reviews and training sessions were conducted with Monterey County and the City of Monterey to ensure that first responders and emergency management personnel are familiar with how to interpret and use these remote sensing and information products during crisis situations.

Project Organization: 

Based on the coordinated review of emergency manager and first responder requirements, existing and available remote sensing datasets were reviewed to determine their value and potential use for improved earthquake response. A variety of datasets were selected for product development, ultimately leading to several categories of products and a focus for the project. Selected components of the research included:

Preparing Data for Disaster Response

  • Inventory of available GIS and imagery layers
  • Creating mosaics and catalogs of attributed imagery data
  • Compilation of  baseline critical infrastructure validation products

Development of Imagery and Information Products – The following is an overview of selected products developed/customized for this pilot project.

  • Infrastructure baseline photography and descriptions
  • Sample change detection cases with before and after event high-res imagery
  • Night lights/Power change detection and Fire detection products
  • Social Networking products (Ushahidi crowd-sourced geolocation and mapping)
  • Damage assessment Android-based Mobile Application
  • Post-event sample products, including land cover mapping, LiDAR elevation and tree-height mapping (pictured below), Tsunami inundation maps, and others
  • ArcGIS layers, Google Maps/Earth Image maps, GeoPDFs and map books
  • Common Operating Picture (COP) application and links to WebEOC event management software used by Monterey County and City of Monterey
  • A series of Playbooks describing the products and how to use them

Above: Example LiDAR tree-height data product for City of Monterey.

Development of Tiered Connectivity Approach – The cornerstone concept of this pilot project is the tiered approach to the delivery of our disaster products. This tiered approach ensures that data and information can still be conveyed regardless of the level of connectivity found in a disaster area.

  • Tier I – Full Connectivity Products: The implementation of Tier I products assumes that full internet and voice connectivity are present after a disaster event.
  • Tier II – Internet Lost/Cellular Connectivity Only Products: Tier II products will function with only one connection available. As is the case in many disaster events, while internet and cellular services may be down in disaster areas, other areas of the county, state, or country may still have full connectivity — allowing for off-site development and use of products for later delivery into affected locations via mobile services.
  • Tier III – No Connectivity and Limited Power Products: Tier III products will provide avenues for first responders to use desktop and mobile platforms that can operate without any connectivity. To disseminate the products derived in a network loss condition, PDF and GeoPDF formats are to be used. In addition, a mobile application is to be used that can operate without connectivity while recording GPS locations — allowing users to capture geo-tagged photos and documentation in the field.  While the tools are enhanced when either cellular or internet connections are available, it provides a viable alternative to document disaster field information for later distribution via a central database.

Above: Tiered Product Concept.

NPS Partners — Coordinated Applications for Disaster Response: 

As part of this research, the NPS RSC identified a variety of existing NPS organizations and projects with pertinent expertise and products that could be incorporated into the overall earthquake response project concept.  An ad-hoc NPS research team was formed to draw upon these related research projects (See Figure Below).  The research team also included participation from several other non-NPS team members. The combined NPS research team provided the hardware and software environment, remote sensing and other geographic data, and developed and implemented selected earthquake response products to build an end-to-end earthquake response capability. Further details of the individual team organizations, capabilities, and contributions follow.

Above: NPS Coordinated Applications for Disaster Response.

NPS Remote Sensing Center (RSC): The NPS Remote Sensing Center (RSC) is organized as a multidisciplinary center contributing to teaching and research in support of the NPS mission.  Dr. R. C. Olsen, Executive Director of the center, was the Principal Investigator for the NPS/RSC earthquake response project.  Dr. Fred A. Kruse was the technical lead and overall project manager.  The NPS Remote Sensing Center acted as the lead organization for the NPS effort, providing the remote sensing technical expertise and most of the coordination with the first responders and emergency managers.  NPS/RSC was responsible for conducting research linking remote sensing with earthquake response, defining appropriate remote sensing products, getting feedback from EMS stakeholders, and refining products as required to support requirements.  

The center also coordinated integration of all of the other NPS team members’ contributions and the external partners efforts into a coherent project focused on delivery of end-to-end capabilities to the first responders and emergency managers. An exercise was run at Camp Roberts, California in conjunction with NPS RELIEF during August 2012.  This exercise provided the opportunity to integrate all of the required hardware, software, data, and communications in an austere field environment. It was a coordinated effort between NPS/RS and all of our project partners (Contact: Dr. F. A. Kruse, NPS/RSC,,  303-499-9471).

Above: Visualization of LiDAR data of the City of Monterey, California in three dimensions using a derived digital surface model.

Virtualization & Cloud Computing Lab: The NPS Virtualization & Cloud Computing Lab, developed the deployable Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in a Box or “EOCIB” under separate funding from DHS and the California Homeland Security Consortium (CHSC) (See Figure below). Hardware developed under this separate effort acted as a platform to host the RSC remote sensing products in an emergency situation. NPS/RSC remote sensing and other geographic products were loaded onto this server for demonstration purposes at the NPS RELIEF exercise during August 2012. The system has subsequently been delivered to the Monterey County Office of Emergency Services and will act as the host for products from the NPS/RSC earthquake response project at that site.


The Mobile EOCIB is a core virtualized operations center designed for emergency management use.  It consists of a ruggedized rack-mounted server and supporting virtualization software architecture providing up to 50 virtual workstations for data storage and processing. When supported by alternate power and communications, the system provides the hardware and software for portable access to crisis information such as critical infrastructure, satellite and aerial imagery, ArcGIS layers, LiDAR, etc in the field. Hardware contact: Buddy Baretto, NPS,, 831- 402-1463; Software and Data Integration contact: Scott Runyon, NPS,, 831-656-3330.

Hastily Formed Networks (Cebrowski Institute): The Hastily Formed Networks Center (HFN) addresses the communication issues that arose out of the September 11th attacks and recent natural disasters.


Under separate funding from DHS and the California Homeland Security Consortium (CHSC), HFN has developed approaches and assembled hardware and a methodology that provides independently Powered Command/Control/Communications Systems (IPC3) integrating commonly available wireless technologies such as WiMAX ethernet bridges, meshed WiFi access points, and VSAT and BGAN IP backbone access via satellite to create a "wireless cloud" of Internet connectivity in and around a disaster zone.  This enables early responders to communicate and interoperate within the disaster zone and also to obtain critical reachback to leadership elsewhere.  

The NPS HFN Center provides wireless infrastructure with redundant local wireless cloud and redundant Internet reachback capabilities using small form factor, airline luggage checkable, commercial off the shelf, integrated communications and alternate power flyaway kits.  These can be quickly delivered to disaster zones, providing Internet access within a few hours of arrival. With HFN, ad hoc communication and network infrastructure capabilities, as well as alternative power sources (e.g., wind, fuel cell, solar, etc.), HFN provides the stand-alone Mobile EOC site with internet access, Wi-MAX instances, and power available in any potentially austere electrical and radio communication environment. Contact: Brian Steckler, NPS/HFN;, 831-402-1584.

Center for Asymmetric Warfare: The Center for Asymmetric Warfare (CAW) was established in 1999 as a part of the Naval Air Systems Command to support U.S. military forces, as well as local, state, and federal organizations. CAW, in cooperation with Peak Spatial Enterprises (a commercial company) developed and operates "Sensor Island”.

Sensor Island is a geographic information enterprise consisting of hardware and software operating on a high speed network providing a common geographic collection, translation, and dissemination capability for the 24/7 integration and transmission of dynamic information. This network collects information produced by sensors and remote sensing analysis centers including imagery files (kmz/kml, img, tif, sid) products, GeoPDF map compositions, GeoRSS social media feeds, and video camera feeds. The primary outputs of the Sensor Island are geographic web services and common operational pictures (COPs).  The web services offer standard dissemination of geographic data for emergency operations centers running geographic mapping software such as ArcGIS and Google Earth. The CAW integrated multiple data sets from the NPS RSC, EOCIB, and other Camp Roberts exercise activities during the August 2012 NPS RELIEF exercise to demonstrate centralized geographic collection, dissemination and display of NPS/RSC remote sensing products and other disaster information and multiple network resources. Sensor Island specifically connected data and remote sensing products from the NPS/RSC exercise with the DHS Unified Incident Command and Data System (UICDS) and the commonly used emergency management software “WebEOC”. Contact: Alan Jaeger, NPS/CAW,, 805-989-1786).

Common Operational Research Environment Lab (CORE, Lighthouse Project): The Common Operational Research Environment (CORE) Lab developed a mobile application “Lighthouse”.  This is available as either an Android or Apple implementation and provides the ability to collect field data using mobile devices into forms that are customizable to meet the needs of any emergency management agency. Lighthouse also provides a back-end database that allows for the analysis, display, and dissemination of this field data using an interactive web client. The NPS/RSC earthquake response project used Lighthouse to develop and demonstrate customized damage assessment forms for use within the project 3-tier framework.  Responders enter data into simple forms and have the capability to transmit the forms along with supporting photos, video, and audio back to the EOC if internet or cell phone capabilities exist. If a Tier-3 situation exists (no internet, no communications, limited power), then the devices can download the data later when these are restored, or can locally download data at the EOC site to the Common Operating Picture.  Contact: Dr. F. A. Kruse, NPS/RSC,, 303-499-9471.

Non-NPS Collaborators: 

San Diego State University (SDSU): NPS/RSC is also collaborating with SDSU on the development of rapid, high-spatial resolution image assessment of post-disaster damage utilizing light aircraft rapid-imaging and change detection of critical infrastructure features. The research, in conjunction with Terrapan Labs and NEOS Ltd (both commercial companies) has established baseline imagery and rapid change detection technology and approaches to be used following a disaster event to assist with situational awareness, critical infrastructure information (life and safety issues, power, water, transportation, communications), logistic support (food, water, field hospitals, cell towers, debris removal), and damage assessment. Contact: Dr. Douglas A. Stow, Dept. of Geography, San Diego State University;, 619.594.5498.

Above: Change detection using registered RGB-composite imagery (bottom) of the Palomar Medical Center (West) in Escondido, CA. Change image is a composite of morning (top left) and afternoon (top right) imagery. Red-colored areas represent the difference from the morning image; cyan-colored areas represent the difference from the afternoon image. [Courtesy SDSU]

NOAA/NGDC:  NPS/RSC is collaborating with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Geophysical Data Center (NGDC) to develop products useful to earthquake response using night-time remote sensing data.  NOAA has a long history of using Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) imagery to develop night lights products that detect power outages, gas flares, and other illumination sources (fires).  NOAA, as part of the NPS/RSC project has extended these capabilities to a new, higher spatial resolution satellite imager (VIIRS). They are developing the capability to automatically produce near-real-time georeferenced power detection images with estimates of the affected population at the county level from both DMSP and VIIRS. A fire detection product under development is also expected to provide nightly assessment of the locations and sizes of fires burning, with specific focus on the state of California.  Both the power detection and fire products will be available on-line to first responders and emergency managers. Contact: Dr. Chris Elvidge, National Geophysical Data Center, 303-497-6121.

Above: DMSP night-light analysis one day before (left) and one day after (right) the 11 March 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and ensuing tsunami. Red-colored areas in the after-event imagery (right) indicate changes in night-light intensity and possible locations of power outages. [Courtesy NOAA/NGDC]


Page created by Scott C. Runyon

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