Virtual USA and Web 2.0

I’ve seen a number of intersting mapping applications being developed “on the ground” that engage citizens in a collaborative efforts to provide details about their communities.  The most common of these is OpenStreetMap.org, which advertises itself as an editable map of the world.

But did you know the federal government is doing something simlar on a grand scale?  It’s a participatory effort between federal, state, and local governments called “Virtual USA.”  This effort, according to a Federal News Radio interview of David Boyd in the Department of Homeland Security, is an effort to integrate federal, state, local, and other information into one place to help first responders in emergencies to act more quickly. 

According to a DHS fact sheet, the goal is to integrate existing data, engaging everyone, to produce a common operating picture in the event of an emergency.

Several states have successfully pioneered such a system.  The most well-known is Virtual Alabama.  In Alabama, officials are able to visualize on a map real-time emergency information. This information includes 3D information, building plans for public buildings such as schools, the location of video surveillence cameras, fire plugs, power lines, water mains, and the topography of watersheds to determine areas that might flood or the potential flow of an oil spill.

According to Boyd, the Department is now entering the second phase of its project, by piloting the system in eight states (Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Virginia and Tennessee).

This is an interesting experiment in Open Government, where government agencies share with each other!  Virginia’s version of the project reduced response times to accidents involving hazardous materials by 70 percent, so this is more than just another Web 2.0 “toy!”

The IBM Center will be coming out with a new report shortly on evolving uses of Geographic Information Systems.  So more on this later. . . .

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4 thoughts on “Virtual USA and Web 2.0

  1. Virtual USA and OpenStreetMap are very different things. OpenStreetMap isn’t just about merging together data, it’s about community engagement and citizen participation in creating and maintaining their own local data. OpenStreetMap is global and allows anyone to freely contribute, edit, update and use the geographic data.

    The Virtual USA projects, while valuable, are more about building “common operating pictures” and possibly sharing out the data, although I haven’t seen this happen yet.

    The USGS National Map is another example of aggregating and pulling together information that has actually talked about exactly this idea of using citizen mapping and data creation as a way to have the entire nation help maintain the national map. http://cegis.usgs.gov/vgi/

  2. Agreed! Virtual USA is developed and used by government agencies (as I understand it) and OpenStreetMap is developed and used by everyone. . . but for different levels of government and different agencies to collaborate and share information, well, that’s revolutionary on its own!

    Thanks for sharing the USGS link. Hadn’t seen it before.

  3. As a follow up – While Andrew is clearly corrrect about OpenStreetMap, he is up to date on VUSA. First, vUSA is not only about creating a common operating picture (vUSA uses the term User Defined Operating Picture) it is about creating a culture of collaboration among the response community (which by the way includes pretty much everyone). This includes sharing and working together on code, best practices, etc. And it has, since nearly the beginning of the program, been successfully sharing information and improving collaboration among its participants. The September 2010 article in Mission Critical magazine gives a good picture of what vUSA accomplished during the Oil Spill.

  4. Agreed! Virtual USA is developed and used by government agencies (as I understand it) and OpenStreetMap is developed and used by everyone. . . but for different levels of government and different agencies to collaborate and share information, well, that’s revolutionary on its own!

    Thanks for sharing the USGS link. Hadn’t seen it before

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