New collaboration tool available
January 8, 2013
HUNTSVILLE, Ala.--When an earthquake struck Japan Dec. 7, Huntsville Center's director of Engineering wanted to know if the Center had employees there, and he wanted to know if they were in the area affected by the earthquake.
Boyce Ross' questions were quickly answered using a common operating picture GIS tool created by the Center's Geospatial Information System team made up of Jay Plucker, Dustin Ray, George Wade and Beverly Richey
"I combined U.S. Geological Service data with the CFEMS travel data and pulled up the map of Japan," said Jay Plucker, a member of the GIS team.
"Using travel data in the CEFMS database, I was able to tell him the location of the people there on temporary duty assignment and assure him they weren't close to the quake epicenter. The application even provides travel order numbers and costs associated with the travel."
With more than 6,000 projects in progress at any given time, Huntsville Center leaders recognized a need for a tool enabling program managers, engineers and contractors to effectively and efficiently collaborate information.
Besides the travel application, the GIS team has built applications for the tool, known by the team as Common Operation Picture GIS, for the Facility Reduction Program, Energy Division and Ordnance and Explosives programs.
The COP GIS platform delivers geospatial capabilities by integrating applications, databases and location-based information to achieve situational awareness across programs, projects and applications through a common operation picture.
The team used ESRI software technologies to build the platform which is similar to any geographical information program available online. By incorporating specific data, GIS technicians can build customer specific application tools that provide decision makers with "ground-level" tools to note problems and figure out solutions.
Plucker, a GIS technician, said the team's vision is to have all Center projects loaded into the enterprise GIS database. He said he believes getting the data added will build a more efficient work force with the capacity to gather information not always shared easily.
For instance, if the engineers in Utility Monitoring and Control Systems are deciding which facilities on a military installation will benefit from metering, they can use the platform to see which facilities the Facility Reduction Program is scheduling for removal and thereby alleviate some of their time and effort spent analyzing and assessing those facilities' utility use," he said.
According to Plucker, data from other Department of Defense and government agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, allows the platform's architecture to grow and allows them to build very customer-specific applications.
"As more apps are built, the time and costs associated with building them reduces since each application eases the input of data because the other data is already available."
Plucker said one of the most important concepts in creating applications is to build them on the KISS, or Keep It Simple Stupid, design principle.
"We build really simple, specific apps for customers and try to never reuse code or duplicate data," he said.
"Everyone gets caught up in the apps, but it's more about the data we have available to us," Plucker said. "With the right amount of data we can build the apps for Huntsville Center, USACE, the Army or other DoD agencies."
Plucker said the work they do is in accordance with USACE geospatial standards and strategy and Service Oriented Architecture principles based on sharing their work.
"A lot of useful data sets are out there and provided by other entities including CorpsMap and Army Mapper. So we strive to never recreate data or software that has already been developed. If available, we consume services provided by other USACE, DoD or government entities and if we have data that would be useful to other agencies we make that data available as a secure service."
Plucker said they are working with other USACE agencies to secure applications and services.
"We're adding more customized tools to our tool library and will make that library available to any valid USACE entity requesting the tools."