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FRIDAY, JULY 13, 2007
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Virtual Alabama puts infrastructure online

By Garry Mitchell
Associated Press Writer

MOBILE — The Alabama Department of Homeland Security hopes every county will have use of its Virtual Alabama computer system by the end of this year, revealing images of the state's infrastructure.

The system has a multitude of uses for emergency response planning, roadbuilding, firefighting and other situations that require government response.

Forty-one of the state's 67 counties already have Virtual Alabama, including Mobile County's Emergency Management Agency. It has helped EMA map high-risk areas, but has not yet been used in an operation, such as hurricane response.

"We're working with city and county agencies to increase the data layers available," EMA planner John Kilcullen said Thursday. "It's only limited by the information you put in."

Department of Transportation camera feeds are available on the system, Kilcullen said.

, allowing officials to monitor major thoroughfares and critical intersections, which helps in planning a hurricane evacuation.

Virtual Alabama contains geographic information from counties and state agencies, such as maps from revenue departments, aerial photographs and other material.

DHS Director Jim Walker said Thursday the project began a year ago at Gov. Bob Riley's request and uses Google Earth technology. He said DHS paid $150,000 for the product license.

County revenue departments already have aerial maps of lands and by using those maps the state avoided the high cost of paying to have it done, Walker said.

"We've gone out and collected all the best imagery the state has to offer. Most of it comes out of the Department of Revenue," said Norven Goddard of Huntsville, Walker's assistant on the project.

Virtual Alabama is available to any agency with a dot-gov Internet address. At least 1,000 registered users have signed up for it. Users can view evacuation routes, flood zones, school districts and watersheds.

The software required to view the program is available free to counties and municipalities, DHS officials said.

If an aircraft flies over a disaster area with a camera, the photo can quickly be downloaded onto Virtual Alabama. With revenue maps online, officials can estimate the property losses in short order.

That happened after the Enterprise tornado, with the Civil Air Patrol's photo assistance.

"When FEMA comes in, you've already got the tax data loaded to jump-start the recovery," Walker said.

Using Google Earth technology, DHS can assemble, display, evaluate and share the critical geospatial information statewide.

Walker said law enforcement agencies also could use it to track sex offenders or plan tactical operations, such as meth lab raids.

Firefighters could call up floor plans for schools and take a look at building contents.

"All that information as firefighters are going into a scene would benefit you," Walker said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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