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The Virtual Alabama Safe Hospitals System

The Virtual Alabama online mapping system for safety and security utilizes Google Maps technology to provide first-responders such as police and fire personnel with a detailed layout of public buildings in emergencies. The system is already used by 1,500 public schools in the state. In 2012, when the University of Montevallo became the first college to implement Virtual Alabama, April Weaver, the director of business development for Shelby Baptist Medical Center (SBMC), recognized the tremendous potential the system holds for hospitals. David Wilson, President of SBMC, credited Weaver with the idea of bringing the hospital into Virtual Alabama. Weaver noted, “We’re very proud to be . . . the hospital pilot facility for Virtual Alabama.” The Shelby County Community Health Foundation provided the necessary funding for a team of experts to develop the hospital’s mapping system over a span of approximately 14 to 15 months. After much hard work, Shelby Baptist Medical Center is now, as Governor Robert Bentley stated, a “model for the rest of the state and the rest of the country.”


The system provides a secure visualization platform that uses a detailed three-dimensional online map to show the location of rooms within a particular facility according to name, color code, and number. Using Google Street View technology, static 360 degree views of hallways and larger rooms allow virtual navigation of the facility by medical center staff and first-responders. Additionally, information is provided about fire protection and utilities such as electrical wiring, gas lines, and water lines. The Virtual Alabama system utilizes video surveillance and photos of key areas and components to allow emergency officials to plan their responses to a wide array of crisis situations. The unique benefits that this system brings to hospitals are manifold. As the accompanying video demonstrates, hospitals that utilize Virtual Alabama will be able to offer first-responders a distinct advantage whether they are preparing for natural disasters or responding to criminal activity. Now, with the addition of other critical infrastructure such as courthouses, hospitals, and government owned buildings, we are beginning to see, to an even greater degree, the immense value of Virtual Alabama as well as the far-reaching impact this system can have on emergency planning, response, and recovery as its application spreads. 


Google Earth Enterprise Server: Exporting a Structured Layers List

In the Virtual Alabama program for the State of Alabama, the majority of users employ the Google Earth Enterprise Desktop Client to connect to and use the Virtual Alabama system. But a number of users required access directly via web browser, either because the desktop client was not locally installed or to enable access to Virtual Alabama at remote locations.

So we wrote a javascript web viewer for Virtual Alabama, using the Google Earth Plug-in, rendering the entire Virtual Alabama data library in a web browser, with no desktop client installation required.

The challenge, then, became how to maintain a duplicate copy of the layers database for display in our javascript viewer, for searching, and for integration with layers from other sources. While the geographic data is stored on the enterprise servers and rendered by the plug-in, we needed a copy of the layer tree's structure to import into our databases to create a tree menu in the javascript viewer similar to what is displayed in Google Earth, allowing users to find layers and turn layers on and off. A further complication is that this duplicate layers structure had to be updated frequently, whenever new data was published or reorganized within the Virtual Alabama system.

The key was in files named dbroot.v5.postamble.DEFAULT on the enterprise servers, newly created with each database publish. 

This is an example of one row from one of those files:

<etNestedLayer> [More Imagery]
	{
		118 	"0b14797e-a3b3-11e2-9e11-b8ff64cb455c" 	"More Imagery" 	"" 	true 	true 	true 	false 	true 	"All Layers" 	24 	"icons/More_Imagery.png" 	"" 	"" 	"" 	"" 	true 	"" 	"" 	"" 	"" 	"" 	"" 	-1 	-1 
	}

Contained within is a list of all published layers, including the layer name, in this example, More Imagery, the Google Earth ID, just before the name, which is used to enable the layer via javascript and the plug-in, the parent layer name, to determine where the layer belongs in the tree's hierarchy, in this example, just below All Layers, and the path to the layer's icon. This provided all the information we need for our system to build a complete layer tree.

Next, we created a service to automatically retrieve this file as need, process the data to create a list of layers, organize them hierarchically, associate appropriate icons, enable layer searching and integration, and update our web-based javascript Google Earth client to reflect new or updated layers.

Now, with the press of a button, our Desktop and Web clients are automatically in sync with the current state of the Virtual Alabama Google Earth Enterprise Servers.