Thursday, June 17, 2010

Oil spill mapping tool

On June 14, the government unveiled a new GIS-based mapping tool to allow interested members of the public and press to review the ongoing oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The new web-based service is found here. While the development and release of this information at least partially satisfies the NIMS protocol for communications and information management, there are a few key weaknesses in the Environmental Response Management Application (ERMA) tool:

  1. You can't print the maps without using a screen capture method, such as Alt-PrtScrn and copying and pasting into another application.
  2. You cannot download any of the data.
  3. You cannot query the data.
  4. You cannot incorporate the data into your own GIS applications.
Let's say, for example, you've created a custom GIS application to track hurricanes and tropical storms in the Atlantic Basin.  Or, you've developed a mapping tool to plot the locations of oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico.

If you wanted to incorporate any of the data from the ERMA application, you're out of luck.  If you wanted to incorporate any of your own data into the ERMA app, you're out of luck again.  Geospatial information on a particular incident, such as a hurricane, earthquake or oil spill, is absolutely critical to documenting how the response effort is being coordinated and executed.  For nearly two months after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, burned and sank, BP and/or the governmnent closely guarded the GIS data.  This blogger had to cajole one of the GIS professionals working on the spill trajectory maps into providing some basic and dated information on the spill trajectory maps.

While the development and unveiling of the ERMA app linked above is a huge improvement over the previous quarantine of geospatial data, the inability to download, manipulate, query and incorporate the data into other applications is still a glaring shortcoming.  The public has a right to these data, and the public can even help the governmnent and the responsible party by spotting inconsistencies and alerting the incident managers to potential shortcomings.

Gimme some feedback in the comments.


vince werber said...

Is this coming to another 'climategate' hide the decline situation?

If I had an imagination I could come up with a catchy name for hiding this data... maybe another reader is up to the task... :-)

David L. said...

I really don't think the quarantining of data was much more than BP and/or the government trying to control the flow of information, "on the advice of counsel."

The NIMS protocol calls for an almost absolute open door on data and information. Lawyers hate that stuff...

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