The Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) recently launched the Virginia Interoperability Picture for Emergency Response (VIPER) using enterprise geographic information system (GIS) software from ESRI. In addition to providing a Web-based common operating picture and analysis tools, VIPER integrates with numerous information systems and links with approximately 250 data feeds.
Emergency commanders; first responders; and police, fire, and government officials can tap into a single information resource for better decision making. VIPER recently earned the Virginia governor’s IT as Efficiency Driver award during the Commonwealth of Virginia Innovative Technology Symposium.
The award recognizes the innovative use of technology to promote efficiency in government.
“VIPER enables us to make better decisions,” says Bobbie Atristain, chief technology officer, Virginia Department of Emergency Management. “We get the right information when we need it. We improve how we meet our mission, saving lives and protecting property.”
VDEM implemented VIPER after an extensive needs assessment. The agency wanted to overhaul its existing situational awareness system. The goal of the new system was to enhance information sharing, communication, and analysis. It would provide a new level of connectivity and fully integrate multiple systems.
The obstacle of wading through numerous information stores, databases, and other technologies would be removed. In addition, preconfigured processes could be put in place so that when an incident occurs, the right datasets and feeds will be activated so that responders can act immediately and monitor events in real time.
VDEM contracted with ESRI Professional Services to help extend the capabilities of VIPER. The system was built using ArcGIS 9.3, including ArcGIS Server and ArcGIS Desktop software. In addition, ESRI’s ArcGIS API for Flex was implemented as part of the system to monitor environmental sensors and gather data from VDEM’s crisis management system and other systems, such as the National Weather Service.
VIPER provides Virginia Emergency Operations Center (VEOC) staff with the ability to visually assess statewide emergency management operations in real time. It also automatically offers instant access to essential information and maps.
For example, if a particular highway experiences a severe traffic accident with multiple injuries, VIPER will provide information about nearby hospitals; in the case of a hazardous materials spill, VIPER will offer data about schools and other high-priority evacuation sites.
VIPER then performs an analysis of all available information and alerts VEOC staff about potential impacts on critical infrastructure.
Today, VIPER is available not only to local, state, and federal agencies but also to the public. Anyone can go online to view the real-time data and point or click their way to information they want. Street, satellite, and topographic maps provide a diverse set of basemap data.
Feeds from multiple sources supply information related to air incidents, traffic accidents, civil disturbances, earthquakes, floods, terrorist threats, hazardous material spills, hurricanes, reported public health concerns (such as swine flu), power outages, reported suspicious activities, wildfires, and more.
Since its launch, VIPER has had several successful deployments. It was used during Tropical Storm Hanna in 2008. It was also used for event management for the 2008 presidential election. In addition, VIPER was used during President Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration ceremony, which was the largest in the nation’s history. The system helped provide security for the 2.7 million people who attended.