Tag Archives: govlife

Mapping a Disaster

One of the roles of government is to lead during a time of disaster. One of the key elements to success in that role is appropriate and successful crisis communication.

Communication during the response phase of a disaster requires a sense of place.

Where is the incident occurring? Where do I go? My grandmother’s cabin is on Puppy Ridge- Is she okay?

Now this is the moment so many of my friends say…

  • I have 9 years experience using ArcGIS and a masters in XYZ.
  • Are you developing in HTML5 or Silverlight?
  • I’m a GIS Professional and I’m here to help!

My reply over the last couple of years with the amazing staff I’ve had the privilege to work with has been…

Let those that own the information OWN the map. 

I  found the most successful implementation for me was when the folks who are professional data crunchers and creators support the information owners. Geeks do this by posting the complicated stuff up, but are otherwise free to process the data coming in on GPS units, query the parcel databases from the county, and create complicated maps for the people conducting the firefighting.

The information most important to the public is often different that what is needed by the responders:

  • Evacuation Areas
  • Shelter locations
  • Community Meeting locations
  • Disaster Response Centers
  • News Media Briefing sites
  • Road Closures/Blocks (okay that one is very important to both)

To support the Public Information Officers (PIOs) I did what I thought was right…

I made them the simple map they needed– then I stepped back and became coach / cheerleader.

What does that mean in implementation……..

  1. An individual creates an “incident” map typically locating the shelter, the general incident location, if there are road closures and where the media should meet the agency folks.
  2. The individual then shares the editing capabilities with their trusted circle of 2-5 people (typically an interagency group). This is closed. If an agency is putting their logo on top they should know what they are presenting. BUT- it should be able to be mashed up or used in other applications as others like the state or Google.org put it together at a higher level.
  3. The team embeds the map into the blog, tweet it, put it on the website and share it with all of their media friends. If we’re lucky then put it into their news stories, websites, show it on TV, and broadcast your message for you. Other agencies will mash it up with other maps or data streams.
  4. As the incident evolves points (shelters), lines (closed roads), and areas (fire perimeters) are added to the map. The uncomplicated ones are drawn directly onto the map and the complicated ones are uploaded via KML… why? Because these professionals have Google Earth on their computers and learned how to draw that in 30 minutes.
  5. As the incident gets much more complicated the GIS Specialist (GISS) on the incident processes complicated data and uploads it to the map. Uploads are done on a daily up to hourly basis depending on the ever changing situation.
    <NOTICE> This is the first real instance of the specialized map geek helping out on the map!!!!!! </ALERT>

Other things to keep in mind-

  • Clear, colorful pictograph symbols are very important
  • Mobile usability is vital
  • Driving directions to points such as shelters are highly desired
  • Data should be able to be downloaded or consumed in other applications
  • A map that tracks hits and where traffic is being directed from is highly valuable to calculate return on investment

So the goal is better service for the affected and interested public but that means no programming and no separation of the map from the crisis communicators. This platform is intended to distribute vital information and simultaneously update all instances that are distributed through various mediums.

Now some may say this is hearsay, some may cite book and chapter of the incident command system at me, and some may say- who are you to try and change the old school ways? To which I answer- the word of the year for 2013 is disruption.

This is a partnership not a rivalry

it’s not about who does what as much as how do we serve better.
I have been involved in incident response, emergency management, or public safety in one form or another for over a decade. I am a Geospatial Geek. I have made incident maps seen by millions of people (instead of my old normal 50-2,500). Best of all… I have shown up on an incident where the map is created, embedded in the blog, on the DenverPost, and I just had to check out the online map to sit down and start cranking something out for the operations side.

I am looking for new tools for the 2014 season and I am hoping over the winter/spring to test and explore the workflows. If there are solutions found I’ll  share them here.


Volunteering, What Makes it Work?

Getting involved in a volunteer effort is more than just finding an awesome group you believe in. I’ve discovered that the talents that define some of my desirable traits as an employee happen to be the things people want from me as a volunteer. After being pursued for normal day tasks I’ve finally reached a couple of conclusions:

I’ve come to realize that I don’t want my volunteer hours to mimic my work hours. I don’t want to spend my time stuck doing data entry, creating standard operating procedures for some data set, or sitting by myself in front of a computer. When I  volunteer I want to be participating in areas I enjoy but don’t get to explore in my current job. I want to be sitting talking things through with one or five people. I want to be active, engaged, and creating.

I am opting out of the physical labor efforts. I have picked up my fair share of trash and jumped in many a dumpster. I’ve helped move old rusty culverts from the river beds. I have removed the invasive species and gathered the native seeds.  I now reserve my time with shovels and plants to my gardens at the house. It’s not a general aversion to physical labor it’s just I’m no longer 18 with tons of expendable energy and living in an apartment. I have land to invest my energy into that produces both beauty and sustenance.

In my world, my volunteer hours are different from my work hours… that’s the secret to engaging as a volunteer for me.

Leadership- It makes me want to Invest #govlife

Today I had the pleasure of listening to the director of our agency. He is a career government employee – so he gets being a GS-low# since he started as a seasonal (just about the time I was born). He recently dealt with being on the hot seat dealing with a lot of political focus. To many he represents not the elite of the management but the regular Joe/Jane reporting to work and serving the public.

Today he stood in front of a room of people looking to him for answers. One of the questions was simply stated as, “what is the future of civil service.” The stuffed room held people at different points of their careers. There are a large number deciding if and when to retire. There are the mid-career professionals deciding if they are going to hunker down or look around. There are the re-treads (like me) who have tried a few things and are on the inside but not yet in that steady “career” job. And there are those bright-eyed young graduate and undergraduate students hoping to turn their internship into something.

The first statement and last statement were predictable in that I’ve heard them a lot in the last 6 months…. “These are challenging times… we have been through worse and we will persevere while we take care of each other.” It’s the middle that got to me. It’s the moment that I thought- this, THIS is why there are hundreds of applications for civil service jobs. Here is the gist of it poorly paraphrased and entirely mangled by my very biased need for inspiration:

To be inspired and renewed we must go to the field. Locked in the offices and walking the hallways we do not always get to see the look on the public’s face as they experience the great wonder that is our public lands and heritage. We need to reconnect to our roots to keep inspired and moving forward. We need to remember the core of our mission for that is what will give us strength to get through these lean and divisive times.


Words such as these need to be uttered in every  government building. We need to go back to the mission statements, the moment when you were a teenager and “knew” what you wanted to do, the wide-eyed college optimism where you could never fathom the actual career you’ve had. We need as a general civil service to forget the “do more with less” silliness and focus on our core reasons and essential tasks. Let’s keep our chins up.

Stability… How’s that Working for Me?

I changed my job about 6 months ago. It was a needed switch-up in order to pursue some personal goals. One of the main reasons was I was aiming for a stable environment with time to dedicate to  adventures outside the office. I  re-joined the federal government as the sequester hit and experienced the first government shutdown in seventeen years. How’s that working for me?

I accepted my job during the last couple of days before the sequestration hiring freeze. I snuck in as one of the last ones hired before the great pause. I was onboarded during a hiring freeze. I did a double take as the agency adjusted, the belts were tightened (yet again), and the new normal took over. Sequestration was just part of my new reality.

For those who don’t know me well-  I’m a serial government employee. I’ve worked for the government directly for over 13 years and the years I worked in the private sector my clients were primarily government. Heck, when I’m in the government many times my customers are other government agencies or employees.

I settled into the new job, got to know my new colleagues, re-engaged with old colleagues, joined committees, and started feeling like things were coming together. Projects started getting handed to me and things started into a groove. <sigh> I should have known better.

Up to the Friday before the government shutdown of 2013 I was being reassured by many people with very lengthy careers that it wasn’t going to happen. The day before the furlough the tone changed and people started talking about taking plants home.

Now, please don’t get me wrong….While stressful and disorienting, the furlough  does not make my top 5 most challenging events I’ve encountered in my career. I’m not sure it even would make the top 20.  We had a strong community of federal employees who supported each other and informed each other during this event. 

Through all of its challenges, it’s good to be back in my federal family. I have an amazing job. I am enjoying this opportunity immensely. On a daily basis, I am among wonderful professionals supporting the field. With this said, it is noticeable that these times are different. The atmosphere with the sequestration and shutdown is unlike  what I’d seen from the seasons of 1993-1997, the years from 1998-2006, or 2009-2010 in the federal government.

2013 has been different. It wasn’t what I expected as I searched for stability. Luckily, I am where I need to be. It’s working out just fine.

Reviving the Projects

It was the never-ending weekend. There was not enough guaranteed time off to break away and truly relax. The perpetual list of to-do items dominated my brain waves. Now, the seemingly forever weekend is over. We are back in the office (for at least 90 days) trying to figure out how to restart EVERY project we were working on.

The momentum was sucked out of the room with a shop-vac. The conference calls and meetings will restart this week. Re-engaging requires buying in that this is essential and good work that we are spending our hours and days investing into.  There is a huge difference between one person missing a week or two on the committee and everyone in your extended network dropping everything for 12 working days.


Trying to re-schedule our project meeting while minimizing any impact they have on the other projects is a herculean task. In the federal government (especially in the land management agencies) we are planners. Back in 2004 I used to be able to tell you my 6 month schedule of conferences and meetings one year in advance. Back then I has it nailed within a week.  Today, it still stands in that scheduling our scoping meetings was done with the entire NEPA process in mind, which was built with consideration for the field season schedule, and the upcoming event that is permitted for a year from now. That’s just how we normally roll.

So right now we are trying to cram it all in back in without majorly damaging other schedules. Yet in the back of our minds is that… it might (probably will) happen again all over in January. It’s been more disruptive than I would have imagined. We will make it happen, as we typically do. When the week wears on, conference calls will be attended. Guidelines will be written. Contractors are back on board. And soon paychecks will show up again in the bank accounts. We are glad to be back and serving America in so many ways.

Regaining Control Through #FurloughFrenzy in the #GovLife

My world is chaos except for the kitchen. I don’t know when I’ll go to work next, I don’t know if I’ll be able to make that meeting I just set for  Thursday, I don’t know if I’ll get back pay, and I don’t know the next time I’ll get a paycheck. But the sink is empty, the dishes are clean, and the counter is clear. We call it “furlough frenzy.”


There is just a need for something that we can feel secure about. There is very little that we can trust in terms of schedules or certainty. The overwhelming reaction across the nation seems to be- homes are getting cleaned. My facebook and twitter feeds have pictures of electronics, closets, basements, and other organization projects.

I know in my house I am inflicting a new level of order on the household.  I busted through a project in 10 hours that was originally  slated for weekend projects extending over 4 months.  One furniture swap I’ve been talking about with a friend (another furloughed fed) for 4 years was executed in a number of hours. It has been cathartic to focus on the one thing within my control- where the pieces of our house are placed.

Furlough frenzy projects are low-cost, high energy, short in duration, and at the end of the day we have something to show for our efforts. We don’t know if we’ll have tomorrow to finish up so we break the projects into bite sized pieces. We don’t know if we’ll get paid so we try not to spend much money.

At the end of the day  I collapse in exhaustion.  My husband comes home and wonders what on earth happened to the storage room with the boxes, papers, and furniture he collected over the years. And while not much is going to be in the same place at the end of the day- that kitchen counter will be clean.

A Furlough is not a Vacation #Govlife

I have it easier than most, but this is not a vacation. A vacation is traveling to a National Park, escaping to the mountains, or flying to the beach to see friends and family. A vacation is hiking, indulging in restaurants, and exploring new places. A vacation is relaxing.  This tension is not a vacation.

Please forgive my suspicions when it comes to the current “Oh it won’t happen” moments because guess what- it’s happening. These are very divisive political times and until the budgets and back pay are signed I can’t  “just relax”. Then, and only then, will I be certain I will get paid for these days “off”.

I am taking time to do my best to enjoy these fall days and fill them with constructive activities, service to the greater good, and lots of school work. My days are not filled with lollygagging and sitting on beaches (now I do love beaches though I am very rarely caught lollygagging). So, for all those wondering what does a federal employee do while shutdown… here is my perspective:

I obsess about whether I should apply for unemployment. I mean if we get paid back I don’t need it but if we’re out for 21 days and I don’t apply was that a wise move?

Home projects…. the cheaper the better. That storage room is getting cleaned out, those papers in boxes are being sorted and recycled, the herbs have been preserved for the winter, and dishes are clean.

I come up with plan B, C, and all the way to ZZ. Who else do I know who is hiring? What other options are out there right now? I love my job- why am I looking at this again?

I connect to  social media- not only to find out what Congress is doing (or not passing) but to see if there is anything I can pass onto my fellow federal employees. Occupy the Federal Land movements? Unemployment information? Or simply a supportive statement. Or Memes… I love those memes.

This Smokey one is the favorite so far:


I try not to snap at my non-fed friends asking…. so how are you enjoying your relaxing furlough? This is not a fun lark- though we are all trying to make the best of it.

I try to meet with friends for walks, coffee, or volunteering- we all feel a bit isolated and it’s good to spend some time discussing this with someone other than our spouses. Mine is a little tired of this being the primary topic of conversation.  These sessions tend to be more therapy, less escape.

And studying… there’s always a test to study for, a book to read, or a paper to write.

I realize that for many of us this is a first world problem. This is nothing compared to the seasonal who moved across country to start on October 2nd and is stranded in a new place without a job yet. Or the student making less than $30,000 with student loans and no income for the foreseeable future. Or the joint federal family that is looking at not having 2 salaries for an unknown amount of time. Or the single mother who is asking about food banks as both her jobs are suddenly shut down since one is federal and the other is a federal partner. Those are the people who need our sympathy, our help, and action from Congress to end this shutdown.