NOAA’s spill response team nominated for Service to America honors

September 15, 2011

NOAA scientist Amy Merten.

NOAA scientist Amy Merten and her team are one of four finalists for the Samuel J. Heyman Partnership for Public Service to America Medal for Homeland Security

NOAA scientist Amy Merten and her team are one of four finalists for the Samuel J. Heyman Partnership for Public Service to America Medal for Homeland Security. They were nominated for their efforts in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill to refine and expand the capability of an innovative tool providing responders and decision makers with quick access to spill data in a secure and user-friendly format.

During the spill, the tool, NOAA’s Environmental Response Management Application or ERMA, provided responders and decision-makers as well the public and news media access to see maps that charted areas oiled, fishery closures, and the location of response ships and other assets.

”The importance of quick access to up to date information was vital for decision-making during the Deepwater Horizon response,” said David Kennedy, assistant NOAA administrator for NOAA’s National Ocean Service. “Amy and her team were able to successfully expand an experimental NOAA tool into a critically important asset for spill management, the news media and the public. Her team’s nomination for this honor is recognition of that outstanding effort.”

A small pilot project developed by NOAA and the University of New Hampshire, ERMA was first introduced in 2008 as a prototype in the Portsmouth, N.H. region. It proved highly successful and ERMA sites are currently being developed for the U.S. Caribbean, New England, and Pacific Northwest. The Caribbean site was the first operational ERMA and was a partnership with NOAA and US EPA Region II. Merten is currently working on developing similar ERMA systems for the Arctic and the U.S. Pacific Islands and is updating the other ERMA programs developed for use in New England and the Caribbean.

According to Merten, the idea for creating ERMA originally stemmed from a presentation she saw using real-time weather information for web-mapping. After years of relying on manual maps and lagging information, she became determined to create a decision-making tool that would provide timely and comprehensive data to help leaders respond to oil spills.

The Gulf ERMA runs the federal geospatial information system, GeoPlatform.gov, and incorporates information from NOAA, the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, EPA, NASA, U.S. Geological Survey and each of the five Gulf states. Agencies contribute data through the response data sharing mechanism within the command posts. This includes posting geospatial data on a common server, allowing access and use for multiple spatial platforms.

Merten and her team are finalists for the Homeland Security category, one of the eight Sammie  categories presented by the Partnership for Public Service. The award ceremony will take place tonight (Sept. 15) in Washington, D.C.

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