Point of Beginning

Web Exclusive! FEMA Hazard Mapping Framework Launched

October 3, 2002
Making wide sets of data available to the public for use in varying applications.

The industry is taking strides to integrate data from different sources and make it useful for a variety of purposes. We see this in the United States Geodetic Survey’s efforts to create the National Map. (See POB’s Latest News, July 2002 for more information on the National Map). The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has joined the ranks of those interested in making wide sets of data available for use in varying applications.

Working with the Open GIS Consortium (OGC), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and industry partners, FEMA has developed and made operational a technology framework for the sharing of geographic data related to natural hazards. The OGC’s FEMA-sponsored Multi-Hazard Mapping Initiative Phase 1 (MMI-1) concluded with a successful demonstration in May of a standards-based framework for discovery, access and distribution of multi-hazard map data. Federal, state and local agencies were invited to participate in further development and growth of this information sharing framework.

The vision and goals of MMI-1 are lofty, but perhaps not so far off. Its vision is to “maintain a living atlas of hazards data and map services for advisory purposes supplied from a network of hazard and base map providers.” The goals associated with materializing this vision include fostering the exchange and collection of geospatial hazards data; increasing hazard awareness by providing a multi-hazard mapping capability on the Internet for advisory purposes; and encouraging data providers to establish standards based services that facilitate access and distribution of their data for the creating of these maps. The initiative is compatible with and shares the goals of FEMA’s E-Government Initiative, the Department of Interior’s E-Government Initiative: Geospatial One-Stop, and the United States Geological Survey’s (USGS) National Map.

FEMA’s website, HazardMaps.gov, is already a valuable multi-hazard data resource. Now you can visit the Multi-Hazard Atlas at the site and by simply typing in a zip code, instantly view a map of this area with hazard information ranging from floodplain data to tornado occurrence to volcanic hazards. The Atlas has zoom capabilities that allow users to view areas ranging from approximately three miles to almost 4,000 miles.

Since the data provided by the Atlas is drawn from a variety of locations and maintains varying degrees of accuracy, it cannot be defined as having one level of accuracy. To determine the accuracy of any individual dataset, it is possible to access its metadata directly from the map view. Most layers in the Multi-Hazard Atlas are hotlinked to their associated metadata. Clicking on the name of the layer in the legend displays the metadata in a new window if it is available. The metadata files can also be accessed by clicking on the Hazards Data Exchange Query tab and searching for the dataset in question.

Until now, the diversity and non-interoperability of geographic information systems has hampered data sharing. The OGC’s MMI-1 demonstration illustrated the advantages of using products with OGC interfaces to access, fuse and visualize critical spatial information from multiple sources in support of FEMA multi-hazard mitigation, response and recovery functions. Now the Internet can be used as a medium to locate, retrieve and exploit multi-hazard map data from many different organizations, regardless of their software vendor. One MMI-1 demonstration scenario depicted development of a land use plan combining multi-source information about land use, population, transportation, earthquake susceptibility, historical data on faults, tsunamis and wildfires. The second scenario demonstrated how flood maps and maps of roads, hazard probabilities, demographics and historic storm paths could be rapidly accessed from different organizations to aid hurricane response efforts.

Geospatial technology providers CubeWerx, Compusult, ESRI, Harvard Design and Mapping (HDM), IONIC, MapInfo and SAIC engaged in the consensus-based development and testing of this legacy-compatible interoperability framework. FEMA’s online HazardMaps resource represents one of the technologies resulting from the MMI initiative. It can be viewed at www.hazardmaps.gov.

FEMA invited state, local and federal agencies to partner in improving and expanding this framework. Interested agencies and constituencies are invited to apply to participate in a Community Advisory Group (CAG). Agencies can contribute data to be hosted on the HazardMaps site, or they can make their data available as an online service by means of servers that implement interfaces based on OGC’s OpenGIS specifications. While registration at the site is not required to download data, users must register before they can upload data. This is to ensure that if there are any problems associated with the data, there is a way of contacting the source agency.