Before joining the Spatial Networks team, I spent five years working for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as a Geospatial Coordinator. My days were spent collecting data pertaining to specific disasters, analyzing it, and publishing informative maps which were then used in decision-making by senior leadership at FEMA and in state governments.
When Superstorm Sandy hit the northeast coast, I was one of the first geospatial support staff to arrive and provide FEMA leadership with maps and situation data pertaining to the affected areas. It was a unique time for FEMA— the Geospatial Information Office had recently adopted the capability and policies to publish public web maps in order to share all available geospatial data with the public and first responders. Also, FEMA had recently begun its partnership with the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). FEMA and CNCS deployed 1,600 service corps members within AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) solely devoted to disaster preparedness, response, and recovery.
FEMA Corps made a big impact
At that time, a week after Sandy dissipated, there were 430,000 customers without power and 5,200 survivors living in shelters. Over 57 schools in New York and 2 schools in New Jersey we closed. The closures displaced over 34,000 students. According to Richard Serino, (Deputy Administrator of FEMA at the time) “FEMA Corps teams responded by rapidly deploying to different east coast states resulting in the registration of more than 343,000 applicants and providing nearly $370 million in assistance.”[^assistance] A large number of survivors registered for assistance with the help of FEMA Corps members, either using laptops or assigned iPads in the field. My hat is off to these volunteers for the level of service and dedication they provided.
Keeping track of teams
One problem that quickly arose was: How do NCCC and FEMA keep track of thousands of FEMA Corps personnel in the field, and keep them on task registering survivors and completing field missions? I was contacted by CNCS and NCCC leadership to find out if a geospatial solution could be developed which would replace their spreadsheet method of accounting for personnel. Team members needed the ability to update their location, status of their mission, and possibly upload photos on a daily or weekly basis. The solution needed to meet the following requirements:
- Inexpensive, preferably with hardware already in field use
- Easy to manage and update directly from the field
- Able to update in a communications deprived environment
- GPS capabilities in order to log locations
- Display capabilities on an interactive web map for everyone concerned to view: Congressional Members, NCCC Leadership, Parents, and the Public.
The small geospatial team assisting me in this project, which was already overwhelmed with analyzing data and producing map products for leadership, came up with one possible solution that tapped into the limited functionality of FEMA Corps issued BlackBerrys (at the time, iPads were not widely deployed and FEMA didn’t have the capacity to rapidly develop for the iPad). In the end, the Blackberry project failed in testing and was never rolled out because it ultimately didn’t meet all the requirements listed above. This made a lasting impression on me, because as far as I know, a geospatial solution was never found that met both headquarters and field reporting needs.
Solution found: Fulcrum
Fulcrum + BootLeaf is the perfect solution. It can be set up and deployed with little-to-no training, and can be fully operational within a week. All teams will have the ability to report locations and project status directly from their iPads, and all would be accounted for on a web map.
Steps to Setup
Have the 70+ NCCC team leads download the Fulcrum App from the App Store to their iPads or iPhones (personal or government issued). The data is stored securely in the cloud, so it doesn’t matter which device is used.
- Host BootLeaf (open sourced on Github) on a web server or have us host it for you. We’ve mocked up a sample of BootLeaf customized for NCCC.
- From your Fulcrum admin dashboard, customize the fields and data you want FEMA Corps team leads to input.
- Provide guidance to team leads, and geo-located field data will begin syncing into the web map in real time.
If you think Fulcrum + BootLeaf can meet the needs of your organization, I encourage you to reach out to us at email@example.com for a trial account or a demo of the service (Fulcrum comes with a full featured one month trial). Our support is second to none with quick standard turnaround and premium support options. I am confident that once you’ve tried Fulcrum, you will find it invaluable to your data collecting needs in the field.