Supporting MEMA Operations During Irene

StormCenter was asked by the Maryland Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) to set up its technology in the State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) on Thursday August 25, 2011 to support the agency and Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley with decision support and real-time collaboration during the Hurricane Irene threat. During StormCenter's activation the Envirocast® Vision™ Collaboration Module (EVCM) was used extensively and kept running the entire time at MEMA by StormCenter personnel. During the activation StormCenter had dedicated to its output one of the projector panels at MEMA to display the datasets used during the real-time Irene situational awareness collaboration sessions.

StormCenter used this opportunity to demonstrate the effectiveness of real-time data access and real-time collaboration when integrated into MEMA operations. From Thursday, August 25 to Sunday, August 28, 2011, StormCenter's team was activated to support MEMA and the Maryland Governor. Even though the EVCM is a technology that can be used to visualize and explain any type of geo-information for all hazards, the datasets MEMA asked StormCenter to focus on were primarily meteorological, including observational data and forecast products. The expertise that was expected from StormCenter was mostly focused around the current and forecast conditions of Hurricane Irene.

Work was divided into nine StormCenter activation shifts, and each one of these shifts would have a different number of collaborators which varied dependent on MEMA's needs at the time. StormCenter's representatives at the SEOC kept MEMA and the Governor updated with the latest information available while consistently connected to EVCM collaboration sessions. This person also made sure the projected screen displayed information that was relevant to SEOC issues at the time. This person has access to all the collaborators over an open phone line, or via the internet (text chat and/or voice over IP). Enhanced EVCM graphical displays also supported the National Weather Service (NWS) Sterling IMET meteorologists during their briefings to the SEOC.

While maintaining connection to collaboration sessions, the StormCenter staff provided expertise in data mining, meteorology, image analysis and development. Connectivity ranged from StormCenter and StormCenter's StudioEarth® to home offices in Montgomery County, Baltimore City and Anne Arundel County. Access to different datasets and expertise were demonstrated with every collaborator on the telephone line and internet.

StormCenter's team was able to integrate itself within MEMA's operations and was frequently visited by MEMA staff and the Governor's staff. StormCenter representatives at the SEOC were considered "part of the team." During the activation, StormCenter personnel were continuously working on monitoring the hurricane and generating new official NOAA datasets to visualize and display to the entire team within the SEOC, including the Governor's cabinet. This was a very large amount of work, since many products had to be assembled and automated scripts for product creation programmed and debugged during this event (There was no budget or preparation time for this activation). StormCenter generated unique products directly from the bulletins issued by the NWS National Hurricane Center (NHC) in Miami for the purposes of estimating the probability of tropical storm, storm force and hurricane force winds in the Maryland area. In addition, development also resulted in the visualization of the actual forecast storm wind fields which proved to be valuable during the Governor's cabinet meeting when the secretary of transportation needed to understand when tropical storm force winds might begin affecting Maryland bridges. This product was referred to several times on the large projection screen. While a StormCenter representative was present in the SEOC there was at least one PC with the EVCM technology running an EVCM collaboration with the latest datasets, and the screen of this PC was continuously projected on one of the large situational awareness display screens at the SEOC.

Many of the datasets displayed were National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) products, mostly from the National Weather Service (NWS) or from the National Hurricane Center (NHC). Many of these datasets are already available from these agencies, but needed to be modified for rapid understanding and comprehension in an operational SEOC environment. Some of the products used were also difficult to find if someone had to do it alone. In addition, some NASA datasets were also displayed for enhanced situational awareness.

Finally, while at the SEOC StormCenter personnel were able to interact and help the NWS IMET representative present his briefings. During the regularly scheduled NWS briefings, the EVCM was displaying datasets relevant to the information that the NWS representative was talking about. This greatly enhanced the presentations, in addition to increasing the team collaboration work at the SEOC. If there were no EVCM available, NWS briefings may have been completely verbal.

The StormCenter team pulled together many resources to meet the needs of MEMA for the protection of life and property and sensed that EVCM's capability demonstration went above and beyond all expectations. The StormCenter team is very proud to have been such an important part of the State of Maryland response to the hurricane Irene threat. We look forward to collaborating with MEMA and establishing EVCM as a key collaboration technology throughout the State for all hazards.