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November 29, 2016

USGS has many partnerships, both foreign and domestic, that enhance our science capabilities, provide needed support to others, and expand our ability to serve the global community.  One little-known partnership that serves both foreign and domestic needs is the USGS science support to the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) - U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM).  

In 2003, USGS partnered with USNORTHCOM to establish a liaison between the two organizations to facilitate science support in the event of a major natural disaster.  The USGS liaison coordinates requests for science information and expertise, and general civil support and humanitarian assistance activities.  This science support enables USNORTHCOM to perform critical national defense and civil support missions, as well as understand the impacts of natural disasters.

Prompted by the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on American soil, the USNORTHCOM mission is to deter, prevent and defeat threats and aggression aimed at the United States, its territories, and interests, drawing on the full capabilities of all U.S. military services, including the National Guard and Coast Guard. USNORTHCOM’s geographic area of responsibility includes the continental United States, Alaska, Canada, Mexico, the Gulf of Mexico, the Straits of Florida, and portions of the Caribbean region to include The Bahamas, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Lakefront Airport, LA - A member of the 514th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron and two New Orleans Paramedics
Lakefront Airport, LA - A member of the 514th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron and two New Orleans Paramedics move a patient on a stretcher to a Canadian C-17 Globemaster III, at the Lakefront Airport in New Orleans, LA, Aug.31, 2008. Members of the 514th are evacuating civilians out of New Orleans prior to Hurricane Gustav making landfall.  (Credit: Tech. Sgt. Sean M.Worrell, U.S. Air Force . Public domain.)

USNORTHCOM’s mission also includes domestic disaster relief operations that occur during fires, hurricanes, floods and earthquakes when an emergency exceeds the capabilities of local, state and federal agencies. In most cases, support will be limited, localized and specific. When the scope of the disaster is reduced and civilian agencies can again assume full control and management without military assistance, USNORTHCOM will exit.

To respond to disasters of such magnitude, USNORTHCOM needs access to the best available science, tools and technologies to assess the extent of damage, as well as evaluate additional impacts and to identify areas where future disasters could impact life and property. The USGS is uniquely poised to provide this science to monitor, assess, and conduct targeted research on a wide range of natural hazards to provide the information needed to enhance preparedness, response, and resilience.  The following products, programs and coordination are a few examples of the support provided by the USGS to USNORTHCOM.


Situational Awareness and Exercise Support:

The USGS provides USNORTHCOM with a wide range of information products to support situational awareness and support exercises and planning. For example, the USGS Prompt Assessment of Global Earthquakes for Response (PAGER) system provides fatality and economic loss impact estimates following significant earthquakes worldwide. These alerts are sent to a variety of recipients including the White House, State Department, USAID, and USNORTHCOM. PAGER is built on the USGS ShakeMap, which provides a near-real-time visualization of shaking intensity following significant earthquakes. The ShakeMap products are used by federal, state, and local organizations, both public and private, for post-earthquake response and recovery, public and scientific information, as well as for preparedness exercises and disaster planning.

FEMA Exercise Specialist Gala Gulacsik presents the Priority Core Capability survey results for the Cascadia Rising 2016.
FEMA Region 10 Exercise Specialist Gala Gulacsik presents the Priority Core Capability survey results for the Cascadia Rising 2016 Exercise.(Credit: Dan Bass , FEMA. Public domain.)

This past summer, USNORTHCOM and USGS managers and scientists participated in the FEMA-led Cascadia Rising exercise.  Aimed at simulating perhaps the most dangerous disaster scenario that emergency management and public safety officials in the Pacific Northwest could face, the scenario presented a hypothetical magnitude-9 earthquake along the Cascadia Subduction Zone with a resulting tsunami where all levels of government simulated response and mitigation operations. USGS provided on-site support to USNORTHCOM and other participating agencies by providing PAGER and ShakeMap products as well as science support briefings.


National Geospatial Program

The USGS supports the Nation through the availability of standard geospatial products from The National Map (TNM).  The National Geospatial Program maintains TNM layers and makes them available to the public and our partners through TNM viewer and download platform.  One key TNM product that now supports USNORTHCOM and other DOD partners during a natural disaster is the USGS topographic map or US Topo.  Hard copy US Topo maps are made available through a partnership with the Defense Logistics Agency.  This new capability enables immediate requests and delivery of this USGS resource to the impacted area.


A digital terrain model derived from high resolution LiDAR
A digital terrain model derived from high resolution lidar (top) shows the vegetation removed revealing the underlying volcanic geology, including: lahar (volcanic mudflow) deposits, debris avalanche collapse deposits, and a welded ash flow that was deposited at very high temperature. The bottom aerial image shows the same area without vegetation and tree canopy removed. (Credit: Dave Ramsey, USGS. Public domain.)

The National Geospatial Program facilitates the coordination and collection of enhanced elevation data through the 3D Elevation Program (3DEP). The primary goal of 3DEP is to systematically collect elevation data in the form of high-quality light detection and ranging (lidar) data over the conterminous United States, Hawaii, and the U.S. territories. Interferometric synthetic aperture radar (IfSAR) data is collected over Alaska. The science supported by lidar provides information and modeling data that is used in numerous hazards-related products including the major areas of concern for USNORTHCOM, which are floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions and landslides. Lidar has the ability to penetrate tree canopies, allowing scientists to view the bare earth.  This technology and resulting data has proven to be a significant resource in the planning, mitigation and response to hazard events where these disasters could impact life and property.

The National Geospatial Program also provides the Disaster Coordination Preparedness and Response Web Map application for all major disasters. This application combines standard mapping products with partner agency data to support situational awareness and resource management prior to and during a natural disaster.  The September 28, 2016, Hurricane Matthew event is a recent example of a disaster supported by the web map. These web map applications are used internally and also shared with partner agencies to assist in the coordination, management and response to a disaster event.

Aerial Oblique Photo of flooding after Hurricane Matthew.
Aerial oblique photo of flooding in southeast U.S. taken in Octrober 2016 after Hurricane Matthew. These images and associated data can be found on the USGS - National Map Disaster Coordination Preparedness & Response - Hurricane Matthew 2016 website.  (Credit: U.S. Air Force Civil Air Patrol. Public domain.)

Additional Support

The International Charter ‘Space and Major Disasters’ is a mechanism that provides satellite information in support of worldwide disaster relief. The USGS is an active participant, drawing on government and commercial data sources to support Charter needs. Extensive USGS historical and current satellite data have proven useful to disaster management agencies, international relief organizations, and the science community at large. The USGS can facilitate the activation of the Charter for disaster support and also provides archive for Charter data through the Hazards Data Distribution System (HDDS) so that USNORTHCOM and other partners can access the data. HDDS is an event-based interface that provides a single point-of-entry for access to remotely sensed imagery and other geospatial datasets and science products as they become available during a natural disaster response. 

Lastly, the USGS supports USNORTHCOM’s Humanitarian Assistance (HA) Program to promote and educate partner nations, improving their ability to prepare for and respond to a natural disaster, thus improving the security of the United States.  The USGS has a history of collaboration with USNORTHCOM HA projects including participation in civil protection meetings at the National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, CO., science support for early warning flood hazard projects on the Mexico/US border, a Bahamian Government GIS workshop, a seismic monitoring knowledge exchange, and a USGS landslide knowledge exchange. 


The USGS is proud to offer world-class science capabilities to support the Department of Defense both domestically and abroad. As the sole science agency for the Department of the Interior, USGS will continue to provide "science for a changing world," matching its talent and knowledge to the progress of science and technology, while enhancing preparedness, response, and resiliency in the face of increasing natural disasters.



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