For years, state and local jurisdictions have been sharing code, data, and other tools on an ad hoc basis and through programs like the Virtual USA pilot projects sponsored by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) First Responders Group (FRG). In reflecting on the value of these experiences, the State of Oregon and the Commonwealth of Virginia recognized the many opportunities to leverage one another’s efforts toward “operationalizing” each of their situational awareness and information sharing capabilities. The State of California; the City of Charlottesville, VA; and the City of Charlotte, NC joined the conversation, and the group agreed that a formalized approach to accessing and sharing information was needed. The decision to form the NISC was made.
Oregon set NISC activities in motion by sharing a micro-program—the “MyOregon” widget—with the cities of Charlotte, NC and Charlottesville, VA, exemplifying the NISC’s mission to build capacity through collaboration and information sharing. The cities quickly connected the widget and rebranded it “MyVirginia” and “MyUASI,” respectively, enabling connection to open and secure web map services from any source (international, federal, tribal, regional, state, or local government and the private sector). The end result, outside of enhanced situational awareness, was savings of time and money—two resources persistently in short supply on both state and local levels. Additionally, underutilized data that was already paid for was put to use. The three jurisdictions immediately recognized the value of the NISC, and the NISC members committed themselves to replicating this kind of sharing across the country.
2013 was a year of growth for the NISC. Between January and June our membership doubled in size and we launched two strategic partnerships. In May, the NISC and DHS FRG announced a partnership to transition administration and oversight of the Virtual USA Virtual Library to the NISC, and to collaborate on other aspects of the Virtual USA program. Sean McSpaden, the Chair of the NISC in 2013, had this to say about the partnership:
“Virtual USA (and all that it represents) is a vital, national program and the NISC has an inherent interest in partnering with FRG to strengthen and sustain Virtual USA on behalf of the national emergency management, public safety and first responder community it is designed to serve."
In June of that year, the NISC announced a partnership with Esri, the world leader in geographic information systems (GIS) software, in order to deploy and configure ArcGIS Online for Organizations to serve as a platform to support the Virtual USA Program. By the end of 2013, the NISC had grown to include members from fire departments, police departments, GIS agencies, technology departments National Guard and military departments, emergency management agencies, non-profit organizations, and academic institutions.
2014 brought more opportunities to improve information sharing, including two large scale exercises the NISC was able to support. In June, the NISC participated in CUSEC’s CAPSTONE-14 Exercise by contributing to data publication guidelines, identifying essential elements of information to be shared among participants, exploring ways to integrate technology into mutual aid, and testing the use of Esri’s ArcGIS Online for information sharing. In November, the organization hosted live webcasts of CAUSE III, a cross-border exercise between the United States and Canada. In the fall of 2014, the Virtual USA Virtual Library was decommissioned, based on lessons learned from five years’ worth of Virtual USA pilot programs and exercises. The goals of the Virtual USA program remain unchanged, and focus has shifted to other tools that support sharing the right information with the right people at the right time. Currently, the NISC is working towards that goal by leveraging the NISC Virtual USA Common Library in ArcGIS Online.
Increased collaboration and enhanced member services are the hallmarks of 2015. Early in the year, the NISC launched a new website, with an improved member portal (formerly the NISC Nexus). We also shared new EEI publication guidance for emergency managers, based on lessons learned in CAPSTONE-14. The publication guidance and other documents have become part of a growing library of NISC Virtual USA Information Products that are shared with members to enhance their information sharing capabilities.