The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) has employed Geographic Information System (GIS) technology for oil spill planning and response since the early 1990's, adding remote sensing tools to the mix by the turn of the Century. Discussed herein are OSPR's current smartphone and tablet-based field data collection applications. We use an off-the-shelf tool for pre-response protection strategy planning and use customized tools developed in-house for California Sea Otter Surveys, Wildlife Search and Collection and the Shoreline Cleanup Assessment Technique (SCAT). The benefits of automated field data collection include the omission of transcription errors during manual data input and streamlined data processing. This results in accurate and timely information delivered to responders, thus enhancing their capability for informed decision making.
OSPR uses the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Environmental Response Management Application® (ERMA), a web-based GIS data viewer as the Common Operational Picture (COP) for data dissemination throughout the incident response community during an oil spill event, and for the post emergency response cooperative Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA). OSPR also uses ERMA a planning tool by uploading significant data layers from the U.S Coast Guard's (USCG) six Area Contingency Plans (ACP) for coastal California and OSPR's Geographic Response Plans for inland waters of the state with higher risk of an oil spill. These response planning data are freely downloadable from the ERMA platform.
In the Summer/Fall of 2019 at the Cymric Oil Field in Kern County, California, over 1,000,000 gallons of oil, mud and steam seeped into a dry stream bed from several “surface expressions”. Direct access to the spill site was not permitted for Health and Safety concerns. OSPR used an off-the-shelf small Unmanned Aerial System (sUAS, aka drone) equipped with a standard high definition (HD) camera and a thermal infrared camera for SCAT reconnaissance, resources at risk evaluations, and regularly scheduled mapping missions for overall site situational awareness.
OSPR is the lead California agency for oil spill contingency planning and emergency spill response. The Lempert-Keene-Seastrand Oil Spill Prevention and Response Act of 1990 established OSPR and supplied a mechanism for continuous funding. Within the Act is a statutory mandate to conduct studies and evaluations necessary for improving oil spill response, containment, cleanup, and oil spill wildlife rehabilitation in waters of the state. OSPR has a statutory mandate to use the best achievable technology to ensure the best achievable protection for the diverse resources of California.
OSPR supports original research in response technologies through the California Oil Spill Study and Evaluation Program (COSSEP). Reports and products from the varied COSSEP funded projects are posted to the OSPR website.1 OSPR and Chevron Corporation together co-host a biennial Technology Workshop for Oil Spill Response, virtual this year (2021), that has traditionally been a smaller, less formal and collegial venue for presentations and discussions on new and cutting edge technologies employed for oil spill response2
GIS was the first digital technology that OSPR desired and was implemented in 1993 after acquiring the hardware, software license, and technical staff. In subsequent years as hardware, software, and technology in general advanced, so have OSPR's GIS based field data collection tools. GIS data input has evolved from manual digitization of field forms, notes and sketches to real-time data automation using common smart mobile devices. Miniaturization of remote sensing cameras mounted on a sUAS platform allows for advanced remote sensing data collection on a meager budget.
Some benefits of using automated field data collection applications include the omission of most human error in data input, streamlined data processing, and timely data upload to the incident COP. The following sections describe several custom smart phone and tablet applications, and aircraft and sUAS based remote sensing tools in use by OSPR.
Also, described herein is a discussion of ERMA, an internet-based GIS data viewer used by OSPR as the COP for operational decision-making during oil spill response, and as a significant tool for contingency planning.
SMART PHONE AND TABLET APPLICATIONS
“Survey123” – Off the shelf form-based tablet software
Geographic Response Plans (GRPs)3 are being developed and updated by OSPR in conjunction with federal, state, local government, industry, and other stakeholder partners for priority inland waters of the state that have an identified risk to an oil spill. GRP's are be driven by access to sites along river systems and lakes where response activities are feasible.
Using ArcGIS Survey 123, the OSPR GIS Team built a tablet-based application to automate pertinent field data collection for the GRP development effort. Attributes collected are river access points, equipment staging areas, boat launch areas, surrounding hazards, and other site-specific details such as surrounding resources at risk. These data, including field photographs, are recorded on the tablet using a series of textboxes, radio buttons, and pulldown menus. Once the survey is completed the data is submitted electronically to ArcGIS On-Line where it is published to a map for visual review and simultaneously available as a GIS file.
Developing and maintaining an up-to-date contingency plan is hard work, costly and time consuming. Response plans are living documents that are updated, as necessary. Digital data automation using one convenient application provides a standard data template to OSPR field personnel, greatly improves, and streamlines the entire process by eliminating field collection inconsistencies, transcription errors and reduces data processing time.
“OtterSpotter” – A Custom iPad application for southern sea otter surveys
OSPR conducts regularly scheduled airborne surveys of the California (southern) sea otter population. OtterSpotter was developed in-house with direct input from OSPR's Marine Wildlife Veterinary Care and Research Center4 (MWVCRC) personnel who are responsible for conducting these surveys. The application is designed for the full-sized iPad Pro allowing for maximum screen real estate that is necessary for use in moving aircraft conditions. A combination of pull-down menus, radio buttons, and text boxes are employed on the screen.
The threat to the southern sea otter posed by oil spills prompted its listing as a threatened species in 1977. During a large-scale oil spill response, a sea otter assessment may occur as part of the ICS Planning Section Environmental Unit's “Resources at Risk” evaluation. OSPR uses a CDFW fixed-wing aircraft (Partenavia PN68 Observer) with two observers, a data recorder, and the pilot to conduct the airborne surveys. Information needs to be collected, compiled, and made available to the Environmental Unit Leader (EUL) in the Incident Command Post (ICP) in a timely manner. OtterSpotter supports these surveys and expedites automation of the collected field observations. Completed survey data are transmitted to the ICP where an OSPR GIS Specialist processes the data using ArcGIS. After vetting by the Wildlife Branch Director (WLBD), the survey results are uploaded to the incident COP for dissemination to responders.
“Wildlife Recovery” – Custom iPhone application for Wildlife Search and Recovery
During emergency response, the WLBD deploys wildlife recovery and transport teams to gather debilitated animals and carcasses. Standardized protocols are in place to ensure that techniques and effort for all data collection are uniform (PRBO Conservation Science and UC Davis Wildlife Health Center, 2009). To streamline the process OSPR developed a Wildlife Recovery Application, in cooperation with the University of California, Davis, Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN) personnel who are responsible for conducting these surveys. Prior to this OSPR's workflow for wildlife data processing had a GIS Specialist digitize the wildlife intake log. This is time consuming, labor intensive and prone to error due to illegible, vague, or inaccurate information on the field data sheet.
The Wildlife application is iPhone based for the convenience of a smaller platform. The application input screen is simple, and the small form factor of the smart phone make it easily transportable and storable during fast moving recovery and transport activities. The application records the collection location, field photographs, animal status (e.g., live oiled, dead), and other ancillary data. At the wildlife intake center the collected animals are logged in and the attribute data are entered into either of two local databases, 1)” Live” or 2) “Dead”. Each individual animal receives a QR code that allows investigators and recovery experts to track the fate of the animal from collection through the care system.
Output from the Wildlife application is a KML file for quick viewing in Google Earth©. Only after vetting by the WLBD is are the daily results uploaded to the incident COP. These data are then used for planning the next cycle of wildlife recovery and transport team deployments.
“SCATalogue” – Custom iPad application for the Shoreline Cleanup Assessment Technique
The SCATalogue application was developed in-house to satisfy OSPR's needs for an automated and accurate SCAT data collection tool. SCATalogue is based upon the NOAA SCAT data model5 and mimics the standard Shoreline Oiling Summary (SOS) paper form6. SCATalogue was designed for use on an iPad, specifically the “Mini 4” format for easy portability. A customized ArcGIS toolbox is used for GIS data processing.
SCAT teams are deployed to the field to reconnoiter along discrete segments of shoreline to assess the degree of oiling and provide a recommendation for treatment. SCAT data is critical information for planning cleanup operations and generating the Incident Action Plan (IAP). Timely processing of daily SCAT data from multiple SCAT teams is always a challenging task for the GIS Unit. SCAT teams tend to converge on the ICP in the late afternoon. Collating and processing the SCAT field data quickly becomes a cumbersome and daunting process. Paper forms need to be transcribed; handwriting may be illegible, spatial coordinate information are sometimes recorded in several modes (e.g., decimal degrees, decimal minutes, and degrees minutes seconds) or with incomplete values. This requires much pre-preparation (i.e., re-formatting) before the field data can be properly processed and uploaded into the local GIS and COP. Because of this analogue to digital workflow OSPR's standard for processing and reporting out SCAT data has been 24hour turnaround time. Now, using the SCATalogue application OSPR has reduced turnaround time to just a few hours or less. Thus bettering decision making for the Environmental Unit Leader (EUL) to plan the next day's SCAT surveys and convey cleanup targets to the Operations Section for the next IAP cycle.
The benefits of using automated field data collection applications are many. The omission of transcription errors and timely data turn-around are major improvements to SCAT data reporting. An important point to note is that paper SCAT forms will still be compiled in the field as backup to unforeseeable calamity (e.g., dead battery, tablet dropped in surf zone…). At least one team member uses SCATalogue, other SCAT team members compile paper forms. The SCAT Team Leader reconciles the separate forms in the SCATalogue before transmitting a digital file to the ICP for processing. SCATalogue data processing outputs a SCAT map, a geodatabase GIS file and an SOS form in PDF format all for archival purposes ( Appendix A).
Key to the success of this application is continual training through in-house field exercises. OSPR field responders' practice SCATalogue data collection regularly.
OSPR's research and operational use of remote sensing for oil spill response began with satellite imaging radar (RADARSAT, 2005; Muskat, 2008). It was clear to OSPR that satellite imaging radar is an excellent tool for synoptic reconnaissance, but an abundance of natural phenomena can cause a false positive target on radar images. This led to further research on other sensor types to remotely confirm the presence/absence of oil with more confidence.
OSPR then partnered with Ocean Imaging Corp. (OI)7 on a series of comprehensive airborne based remote sensing research projects leading to the development of a portable, aerial, multispectral remote sensing package designed to detect, map the extent, and provide thickness values within an oil slick on the ocean surface (Svejkovsky and Muskat, 2006; Svejkovsky and Muskat, 2007; Svejkovsky et al, 2008; Svejkovsky and Muskat 2009a; Svejkovsky and Muskat 2009b). This airborne remote sensing system has been used in California operationally for both marine and inland response, and for post response NRDA studies (Svejkovsky et al, 2008).
During the response to the Deepwater Horizon (MC-252) oil spill. This sensor package was operated daily or twice daily from a NOAA aircraft for tactical missions over the source of the spill and other specific target areas (Svejkovsky and Muskat 2012,Svejkovsky et al, 2012). In ensuing years, these images were used in conjunction with other simultaneously collected satellite imagery for a post response characterization of surface oil thickness distribution patterns (Svejkovsky et al, 2016).
Operational Use of s Small Unmanned Aerial System (sUAS)
In the summer through autumn of 2019 at the response to the Cymric1Y 5–10 Incident in Kern County, California, OSPR had the opportunity to demonstrate the practicality of using off the shelf sUAS technology for SCAT reconnaissance, resources at risk evaluation, plus overall site situational awareness. The drone used was the DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual equipped with a side-by-side 4K sensor for capturing visible light and a FLIR imaging sensor for capturing thermal data.
Several surface expressions of oil, mud and steam had seeped into a dry stream bed within a narrow and steep ravine. Foot access to the site was determined to be unsafe and not allowed. Multiple sUAS missions acquired imagery over a three-month duration. The missions were deliberately conducted at solar noon to avoid sun shadows. The thermal camera was used for direct observations of the fresh oil. As expected, the fresh oil produced a warmer signature on the images and was easily distinguishable from the surrounding cooler soil and vegetation ( Appendix B). The HD camera was used to acquire video along the stream bed and sidewalls looking for evidence of wildlife impact. Many mammal burrows were spotted and investigated for habitation by flying the drone within feet of the opening. Regular weekly mapping missions were flown over the entire site to provide overall situational awareness and track the cleanup progress.
The Environmental Response Management Application (ERMA®)
For visual display in an ICP and for GIS data dissemination OSPR uses ERMA, a web-based GIS data viewer8. The ERMA application is a product of The Coastal Response Research Center (CRRC), a partnership between the University of New Hampshire and NOAA's Office of Response and Restoration (Jacobi, et al, 2008).
ERMA meets all of California's requirements for use as a Common Operational Picture (COP) for emergency oil spill response, including:
Easily accessible via a common web browser – internet access is implied.
System Administrator can assign a specific security level of access to individual data layers.
System Administrator can assign a specific security level to individual users via login credentials. The individual user will only see data layers that their security level allows, for example:
○ “Public” level, open to the public, no login required to view these data. JIC/Liaison can use for situation display for the public, as approved by the Unified Command.
○ “Responder” level restricted to the immediate response community.
The end user can turn individual layers on/off for clarity of viewing.
The end user can download GIS data layers as their security credentials allow.
OSPR also has fashioned ERMA into an excellent oil spill planning tool. Response strategies and other pertinent information from the six USCG ACPs for California's marine environment and from OSPR's inland GRPs have been uploaded into ERMA. These data are viewable to the public and freely downloadable without any necessary login credentials.
DISCUSSION and CONCLUSIONS
Rapid field data collection along with quick and efficient dissemination of this information equips responders with greater situational awareness and provides responders the capacity for more informed decision-making. OSPR created several custom software applications for tablet or smartphone deployment for data collection during emergency oil spill response. Using these software applications speeds up processing of the collected field information quickens turnaround from hours to minutes and reduces the stress load for the GIS Unit dramatically.
Resulting GIS files are then easily uploaded to the incident COP for dissemination throughout the immediate spill response community. While electronic field data collection is now standard for OSPR, paper field forms are still the established method of data collection and are still employed as backup in case of electronic failure or another field calamity.
Advances in remote sensing technology for oil spill response have allowed more wide-spread use at much reduced cost. Sensor miniaturization and the development of efficient low cost sUAS platforms allow for sophisticated remote sensing development and operational usage on a modest budget.
Internet based applications are efficient and convenient but may not always be available in a field ICP. Without a stable, high speed, ethernet based internet connection cloud-based services become a burden outweighing any benefits provided by cloud-based services. For this reason, OSPR continues to store all digital response data locally within the ICP and if Internet services are disrupted we can fall back to hard copy map production and a simple computer projector for visual displays in the ICP.