News / Calgary

Instagram images can now assist Calgary Emergency Management Agency response

Maybe refrain from taking selfies – and don’t put yourself at risk to get the shot – but the next time you see a natural disaster or emergency situation in Calgary, posting a photo to Instagram could actually help responders better assess the situation.

The Calgary Emergency Management Agency has upgraded the software it uses to create real-time operating maps of disaster areas to integrate posts from the popular photo-sharing app.

"It's giving us another tool to confirm what's happening out there, on the ground," said Greg Solecki, manager of business continuity and recovery with CEMA.

The city’s emergency mapping software – recognized in early 2013 for being among the best in the world – already integrates real-time information on pertinent things like the location of fire trucks, police helicopters, active road closures, and combines that with live video from traffic cameras or other city-controlled CCTV feeds.

It also already used geo-tagged posts from Twitter to add to the “common operating picture” and has now integrated public Instagram feeds into a growing list of data from which it can pull relevant information, which users can then overlay in various “layers” onto a map of an affected area.

Solecki said photos and other information sourced from social media played a major role in the responses to large disasters like Hurricane Sandy in the United States and the earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand.

“There's so much information on the social media front that, if we can figure out a way to integrate that into our common operating picture, which is really a big map, and verify some of the information, it just makes it easier for us now,” he said.

Just prior to the June 2013 flood – when the mapping technology was heavily used – the software creator, Esri Canada, publicly recognized CEMA for the way it had integrated the technology into its emergency operations.

“They kind of took the technology to the greatest extent that Esri Canada had seen,” David Hamilton, an industry manager with the Canadian arm of California-based company, told Metro at the time.

Since then, in addition to the Instagram addition, Solecki said CEMA has made a variety of other upgrades on a "proprietary basis" and the software is even "more robust" now.

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