GeoWorld March 2013

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Standards Open Phone Location for Disaster Relief OPENGEOSPATIAL CONNECTION I mmediately at hand and useful despite downed power and telephone lines, location-enabled mobile devices provide a tremendously important communication medium during disasters. They play a critical role in helping survivors and responders develop situational awareness, make decisions, seek consensus, post warnings, send orders and launch rescues. For all these activities, location is important. Cellphones "know" their location, if not precisely through GPS, then approximately through "multilateration" of radio signals among different cellphone towers or BY MARK REICHARDT through known location of the nearest Wi-Fi hotspot. The carrier can thus report a cellphone's approximate location to a crisis center, or a carrier can enable a crisis center to send messages to one or more cellphones in a particular geographic area. Responders and support volunteers can easily collect and communicate location-specific data. Role of Standards Mark Reichardt is president, Open Geospatial Consortium Inc. He can be reached via e-mail at mreichardt@ 30 The carriers and cellphone manufacturers, however, don't always appreciate the importance of open geospatial interface and encoding standards. Without widespread implementation of such standards, vital location information can't be automatically communicated and processed within a disaster-management community's network of diverse devices and systems. Communicating simple latitude/longitude coordinates isn't complicated, but computers expect consistency. To ensure interoperability, applications must implement a standard that establishes rules such as coordinate order (latitude first, then longitude), whether numbers are decimal degrees or degrees/minutes/seconds, whether coordinates are separated by a comma or a space, etc. Fortunately, the venerable SMS standard for text messaging provides a fast, nearly universal, lowbandwidth, vendor-neutral channel for conveying text information among different carriers' networks and different vendors' cellphones. Often during disasters, SMS messaging continues to work even when voice communications fail due to increased call volume and/or compromised network capacity. G E O W O R L D / M A R C H 2 O 1 3 Open GeoSMS Building on SMS, the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) Open GeoSMS Standard provides a standard location-information encoding—simple and compact— that uses this channel. This same lightweight encoding can be used to convey location information attached to photos taken by smartphone cameras, and it can provide a message to be displayed in a location context on a mobile map application. Open GeoSMS was submitted to OGC's international process for consideration as a candidate standard by OGC member Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) in Chinese Taipei. ITRI developed the encoding to provide a simple way to communicate sensor signals and emergency alerts as part of a nationwide monitoring and response network. Various carriers and service providers also have employed it in a variety of commercial applications. The Open GeoSMS candidate standard was adopted as an official OGC standard by the OGC's international membership in 2012. The Open GeoSMS Standard facilitates interoperability among mobile applications and the rapidly expanding world of geospatial applications and services that implement OGC standard service interfaces, encodings and best practices. Disaster Relief Not-for-profit disaster-relief organizations such as Ushahidi, InRelief, Sahana and Haiti SDI VGI are implementing Open GeoSMS. The Sahana platform for disaster management was created in response to the 2004 Sri Lanka tsunami. The Ushahidi crowdsourcing crisis-information collection and map-visualization application was developed in 2007-2008 to help with the Kenyan crisis. is a crisis-mapping site that used the Ushahidi platform for response to the Great East Japan Earthquake. Members of the Open GeoSMS development team, working as GeoThings (, provide Android and iOS apps for disaster management as well as commercial applications. Some, for example, enable Ushahidi users to send GeoSMS-formatted messages as incident reports with synched photos, submit GeoSMS posts to Facebook or Twitter, and attach satellite images based on location. A similar free app supports the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency message service. Commercial applications include taxi routing, road service and friend finder, among others. Feature-rich mobile devices have become the focus for integrating personal communication and traditional map referencing with the Internet of Things: real-time inputs/sensors, 3-D visualization, indoor/outdoor navigation and augmented reality. OGC's simple Open GeoSMS provides a way to begin weaving these together.

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