July 24, 2009 marked the 40th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 astronauts' return from the first successful Moon landing, and also marked the third anniversary of Virtual Alabama – the state’s implementation of Google Earth Enterprise technology to provide government agencies with a statewide common operating picture.
It’s hard to believe that in the three short years since Virtual Alabama went "live," our user base has expanded to beyond 5,000 users. More interestingly is that number represents users in more than 1,450 agencies at every level of government.
As we celebrate one of America’s greatest scientific achievements, I am reminded of a quote from Dr. Wernher von Braun (chief architect of the Saturn V launch vehicle which carried man to the Moon) when asked by a reporter, “What was the most difficult thing about going to the Moon?...” His reply? “The willingness to do so."I have to say that the same has been true about Virtual Alabama.
One of the most gratifying aspects of working on Virtual Alabama is the diversity of our audience. Virtual Alabama has leveled the playing field for users across all 67 counties in our state. But more interesting, it is the assortment of agencies that the program serves – literally everyone from high-level law enforcement to the local animal control specialist and everyone in between. This diversity is key to providing such a rich and robust data set. I am often amused when federal agency representatives tell me they have seen Virtual Alabama demonstrated by their counterparts at a state or local agency and they say, “I thought Virtual Alabama was a product of that agency." You see, every agency feels that Virtual Alabama is THEIR program and was created specifically with them in mind.
But the beauty is that collaboration on such a massive scale allows Virtual Alabama to serve us all equally – regardless of size, resources, technical background or geography.
Every day, agencies in every locality diligently collect, correct, and analyze data turning it into the most accurate, up to date and useful information on the planet.
We have learned from them that the best data resides at the local level. Without their willingness to collaborate, Virtual Alabama would not exist. These efforts continue to make a tremendous difference in the lives of our fire fighters, law enforcement, and first responders and their ability to protect the citizens of Alabama. Those efforts are also making a difference in our ability to manage our cities and communities more effectively.
Our federal counterparts are taking notice and today over 100 federal agencies use the Virtual Alabama system. Alabama led the way as the first state to have a statewide common operating picture. Our neighbors are now following that lead and establishing Virtual States. Virtual states include Virtual Louisiana, Mississippi, Illinois, Hawaii and Texas which all have similar programs to provide their respective government agencies with information to protect their citizens. Currently, we are working with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in a collaborative partnership with 8 other states to develop the Concept of Operations for Virtual USA.
Take a look at Virtual Alabama here:
It's exciting to think about what we might accomplish with Virtual Alabama as we celebrate future anniversaries. We're sure that progress will continue, as all on the Virtual Alabama team are "willing to do so."