Author: Mel McIntyre, managing director, OpenApp Last week’s 12-year anniversary of 9/11 reminds us of the importance of co-ordination and clarity of roles as part of the effective response to major disasters. The E Zone module within Health Atlas Ireland is designed to help address such issues in the preparation and response to major emergencies in Ireland. The Framework for Major Emergency Management 2006 is an agreed structure which enables An Garda Síochána, the Health Service Executive (HSE) and local authorities to prepare for and make a co-ordinated response to major emergencies resulting from events such as fires, transport accidents, hazardous substance incidents and severe weather. [login type="readmore"] The HSE Emergency Management Office collaborated with the HSE Health Intelligence and OpenApp to develop a software application to aid in co-ordination and communication when planning for, evaluating or responding to a major emergency. The application is built on the Health Atlas Ireland platform, which brings together necessary datasets through sharing and collaboration from a broad range of Irish public information service providers:

  • Ordnance Survey Ireland for maps (Map Genie, a web-mapping service that provides online, immediate access to the most complete and highest quality map data available of Ireland), county boundary, electoral divisions and Gazetteer for place names and locations;
  • An Post GeoDirectory for the accurate and up-to-date location of approximately 1.8 million residential and non-residential addresses in Ireland;
  • Central Statistics Office for 2011 population data by Small Area – combined with GeoDirectory to support population estimates within zones;
  • Irish Rail for railway data including tracks, bridges and access locations (in process);
  • HSE Service Directory providing locations and contact information for hospitals, health centres, general practitioners, nursing homes (as registered with HIQA), schools (from the Department of Education), emergency response locations and Seveso sites.
The application is simple to use, requires minimal training and is specifically designed for infrequent use but usually under pressure. The overall design delivers all software services and features through a single page user interface, which is a modern approach to application delivery enabled by the advent of powerful Javascript Libraries and HTML5. INFORMATION DURING MAJOR EMERGENCIES [caption id="attachment_7526" align="alignright" width="1031"] Health Atlas Ireland EZone (click to enlarge)[/caption] When faced with a major emergency, the critical pieces of information include the following:
  • Incident location: Ezone has a geo-coding widget based on An Post GeoDirectory to help identify the location of an incident base on a building address or locality name. Alternatively, the coordinates of the incident can be inputted, if known;
  • Risk zone: depending on the nature of the incident, Ezone can define risk zones based on wind direction and angles (plume), road distance and hand-drawn areas;
  • Population at risk: Ezone provides an estimate of the population at risk from a point-based population model derived from the 2011 Census and home locations from GeoDirectory. In addition, key facilities as outlined above and located with the risk zones can be shown on a map;
  • Response co-ordination: the Ezone assists in formulating a response by showing the incident risk zones superimposed on a high-quality Map Genie road or orthophotograph, together with the location of rendevous areas, holding areas for each agency, Garda checkpoints et cetera. Ezone also produces a list of all facilities ‘caught’ with the risk zones, together with the streets or full addresses of all residential and non-residential buildings per zone so they can individually be visited and accounted for.
The map extent and all attributes can be created by any agency (such as the HSE, An Gardaí or a local authority) and then exchanged by email amongst participating agencies, or the same screen can be shared through the appropriate teleconferencing facility. Google Maps is included as a mapping backup and Google Street View is supported as an extra method of validating site recognition. The maps provide an evidence-based tool for identification of vulnerable locations, while assisting in the allocations of resources. The application is built using open source software, primarily PostgreSQL and PostGIS at the database layer; Zope and Python at the application layer; and OpenLayers and jQuery for the web browser-based client, all managed on a Linux server with all associated supporting technologies. All data and reference systems are converted to open standards, including GeoJSON to describe geographic features and Web Feature Server to manage the web requests. Proj4.js on the client side and GDAL on the server side are used to manage and convert between the various spatial reference systems. Ezone supports Irish Grid and Irish Transverse Mercator, and GPS co-ordinates in various formats like degrees, minutes, seconds, degrees decimal minutes (maritime standard) and degrees decimal degrees (modern Sat Nav). EZONE MODULE The E Zone module of Health Atlas Ireland is currently being tested and refined in the one HSE area and it results from the open collaboration of all participating agencies and the ability to aggregate data from many sources on a common platform. Future developments currently in process include the addition of ALOHA Plume Models for chemical behaviours in the environment, touch support for mobile devices such as iPads and standalone versions such as ToughBooks and other data and usability features as they arise. In major emergencies, ‘place’ really matters – it is of critical importance to know that you are in the right place, and that all the other responders are ‘sharing’ the same space in a clear and co-ordinated way. The Ezone application will help major emergency responders to understand the 'place' when it really matters. Project team: Health Intelligence HSE - Howard Johnson, Ian Folan, Fionnuala Donohue and Douglas Beaton; HSE Emergency Management - Michael O'Toole and Brendan Lawlor; OpenApp office - Mel McIntyre and Nigel Hanlon. See for more details.