On July 17, 2018, a fire started by lightning spread rapidly toward two neighboring communities in central British Columbia. This was the view from the Command Post. The smoke was thick and it was difficult to see exactly what was happening. At night, it was a little easier to see the fire edge.
There are so many GIS or mapping programs available it is hard to decide which solution is best. Here are examples of maps generated by the BC Wildfire Service in conjunction with the Regional District to display evacuations in the Comand Center.
This type of mapping is antiquated and has limited value. Now, enter a new era of mapping. There is an emerging technology platform that will have a disproportional impact on the capabilities of responders and change emergency response forever. A technology so disruptive that paper and digital maps will never be the same. This technology is already used by millions of people around the earth but has not yet be applied to the business of emergency management. I am talking about Virtual Reality.
Compare the maps and images above to this screen capture of YodelME assessing the same area using the latest in Virtual Reality Technology. In this video, I am looking at potential areas requiring evacuation, control lines, and water sources.
New VR headsets like the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive debuted with great anticipation in the gaming community. VR headsets are set to spike by 1047% year-over-year (YoY) to 8.2 million in 2016. This means the consumers will drive the development of new, smaller, and mobile headsets that can be deployed in the field. I believe that successful agencies operating in this new age of natural disasters will survive and prosper by creatively cross-industry, borrow ideas, and get inspiration wherever they find it. VR is a new frontier and a great place to look.
Here is a clip of Google Earth VR. A revolutionary way to view the planet.
We took the Google VR experience one step farther. We have created a proof of concept that allows Emergency Managers to collaborate on incidents in a virtual environment similar to Google Earth VR. Once inside, managers can see the event unfolding as we import weather, GPS data, drone video and images from the field. The area is the same as the Google Earth clip however, we have added the data input.
The feature set of the final product is set to include:
1. Room environment that multiple emergency managers can enter simultaneously. Some as passive viewers and some as active participants.
2. 3D model of the landscape to be taken from Google Earth VR (GEVR) by saving location to GEVR menu.
3. Once the landscape is ported into the virtual room, an active user can move similar to GEVR. This includes street view if someone has a 3D camera streaming.
4. The people in the room will be able to mark up the model with tools like in tilt brush or quill.
5. Data from multiple sources should be layered as needed.
5. Images and video from BCWildfire App, YodelME, drones, aircraft, and firefighters can be imported into the menu
6. Weather data is displayed in the menu and can be narrowed to a local area of the map. Large fires can have localized weather that is not representative of the macroweather forecast. This can be provided by the firefighters on the ground using hand-held weather stations.
7. Available resources are shown on the menu so they can be added as needed. Examples include firefighting equipment, personnel, water tanks, aircraft, heavy equipment like bulldozers
8. Aircraft will move through the air with their current locations.
9. If anything is moved in VR, it sends instructions to the person using YodelME with directions on where to go.
10. If markers are placed in the field using YodelME, they show up in VR landscape.
As you can see, VR will allow Emergency Managers to have an intimate look at the landscape, see resource locations and get real-time feedback on their Incident Action Plans. We are proud to be on the cutting edge of this emerging technology!