Emergency Response and Cartography

DCR specializes in crisis communications. We work onsite for interagency incident command teams during disasters, creating maps and graphics to help inform and manage the response. As the situation unfolds, the teams uses maps, field observers, and whatever other intel sources are available to figure out what is going on. Our mapping techs work alongside government mapping specialists to put the most current information into map form.

We produce a wide variety of maps on each assignment, including air operations, public information, fire progression, land ownership, briefing, evacuation area maps, and a daily 11×17 atlas which goes out in the field with all of the crew leaders.

Cartography – map design – is one of the things that we do best. During wildfire season, we design and print hundreds of maps ranging from tactical topographic maps showing firelines, drop points, safety zones and helispots, to public infomation maps showing destroyed homes and infrastructure damage. Our maps are used to brief firefighters, help decision-makers navigate complex spatial problems, inform the public, and sometimes, just as art. This page highlights some of our ongoing cartography work.

Mapping the Eagle Creek Fire

Map index for the daily fireline atlas.

While we work on many different assignments each year, some jobs provide unique opportunities for us to push our cartography limits.

We are currently providing onsite mapping support for the Eagle Creek Fire, which is burning in the Columbia Gorge just East of Portland. There is an amazing amount of infrastructure, recreation, and topography packed into the fire area, and this makes for interesting map-making.

Here are a few images from the main Operations map we are producing each day on this fire. We designed this basemap using a variety of data that we have compiled from public sources over the years. The incident command team is responsible for gathering, vetting, and updating the various firelines and other fire-specific overlays such as drop points, water sources, and other points of tactical signifigance.
To download a full-sized map, click here.

Red hashed lines are the uncontrolled edge of the fire. XXXX lines are bulldozer firelines, and -R-R-R- lines show roads being used as fireline.

The fire has the potential to burn South into the Bull Run Watershed, which provides drinking water for the Portland Metro Area.

The yellow line is a ‘Management Action Point’, or ‘Trigger Point’. If the fire crosses here, mandatory evacuations will begin in pre-designated areas.

Solid black lines show areas which are considered to be controlled or contained.

Sling sites are places cargo can be dropped on longlines from helicopters. The dashed green line is the Pacific Crest Trail. This fire is using some remote cameras to observe fire behavior.

The fire made a 3,000+ acre run to the East last night. Red dots are spot fires ahead of the main flaming front.

Lots of data, this is how we roll.

Cartography – The Old School

Several of us learned cartography when ink pens and sticky-back labels were still the main tools of the trade. Modern digital cartography tools are great for mass-production, but it is tough to create anything digital that has an heirloom feeling to it.

We love when we get a chance to mash up the old and new schools of cartography, using paint brushes and ink along with the digital layout tools.

Here is a birthday map that we built a few years ago for a guy that lives up in the foothills above Chico. His kids wanted us to make him a map that showed his property. This project tapped into every drop of creative and technical know-how that we had.

Original artwork, hand-drawn over digital airphotos and topo map. The footprint of this artwork covers the 1:24,000-scale ‘Paradise West’ USGS Topographic Map. Butte Creek Canyon and Paradise are on the right, Big Chico Creek is just left-of-center.

Detail – Prismacolor, acrylic, and china marker over mylar.

Photographing a 2-d map from an angle is a good way to create the ‘poor-mans 3-d map’.

The final product combined our original artwork with road and stream overlays, and a collar and legend from the original USGS topo map.

Cartography In Our Backyard

We have been working on a series of thematic maps for the Upper Feather River Integrated Regional Water Management Plan (UFR-IRWM). This has been a satisfying project, as we get to use maps to describe an area that we know well.

Cartography is micro-design, every square inch matters.

Themes include:
FEMA Floodplains, Landcover, Water Management Infrastructure, Groundwater Basins, Administrative Boundaries, Sub-watersheds, and Private Water Districts.
You can download a packet of 9 draft maps here:

Lassen Range Illustration

Here is an illustration project that I did a few years ago for some friends that like to ski in Lassen Volcanic National Park – near our home base of Chico, CA. I grew up skiing in Lassen when there was still a rope tow and poma lift (later a chairlift) there, and we spent a lot of time hiking, climbing, and exploring in the Park when I was a kid.

This is the perspective of Lassen and Brokeoff as seen from the East – the one that we came to know as kids growing up in Lassen County.

From Lassen Range

This illustration began as a Google Earth screenshot printed about 5 feet long on a plotter. Then I worked over the image with India Ink on a brush, and used black and white China markers to deepen shadows and add highlights.
Custom prints of this image are available on canvas or paper at sizes from 24-48″ wide.
Email us:

Lassen Range – In Metal

We have a separate business that does metal fabrication and sculpture work. We are working on integrating more of the metalwork into our mapping, and vice-versa. Here is a new project that uses texturing dies in an 8 ton fly press to create map-based artworks.

A Dirty, Ragged Map

We got a call back in 2004 from John Maclean, author of many books on firefighting accidents, and son of the late, great Norman Maclean.  John was writing a book about wildland firefighting accident in Washington that killed four firefighters and had heard that we did fire-related mapping work.  He sent us a manuscript for his new book and we spent several weeks developing illustrations for the story.

This was a challenging assignment.  For a wildland firefighter, reading his book is a lot like going through a recurring nightmare.  Through a long series of bad calls and miscommunications, you are trapped in a box canyon with a fire burning upstream toward you and no way out.  Artistically, we didn’t know how to treat the terrain or the assignment.  We have a hard time feeling good about making a map of a place we’ve never been, and in this case we knew that there would be plenty of eyeballs on this map that had been there on the day that things went down.  It was early spring, and the site was under six feet of snow, so we never got a chance to see the terrain in person before the maps were due.

We spent a lot of time talking with Lonnie Williams, who had been on the fire, had flown it as an aerial observer for days after the tragedy, and who knew many of the players in the story.  He had been to the site after the accident, and had walked from the site of the fire ignition up the canyon to the site of the fatalities while the fire was still burning.  Lonnie described a steep, rocky, hot, and underestimated landscape that rained hell on those who didn’t recognize just how dry the slopes above them were as they fought fire in the shade near a river.

Aerial view of Thirtymile Fire Accident SiteAerial view of Thirtymile Fire Accident Site – from USFS Accident Investigation

I spent a lot of time trying to track down the information for the maps.  There were still unresolved lawsuits going on 4 years after the accident, and nobody at the Forest Srvice wanted to talk with me about the story or share information.  The District Ranger for the area told me “I don’t talk to anybody about Thirtymile” and hung up the phone.  I filed a Freedom of Information Act request, but even once this was in action, it was hard to track down any usable information.  I ended up using some low resolution maps from the official investigation document as my sources, and also information from John Maclean’s interviews.  In the end, I got a member of the investigation to sign off on my final map, but still felt uneasy about making a map of a place I hadn’t been.

I decided that either needed the map to be emotionally neutral, with no terrain, just a plain white background, or it needed to have a LOT of emotion, energy, angst, and raw edges.
Waiting for the wheels to turn in Washington I had some time to think about the design and try different materials.  I spent a lot of time looking at aerial photos – especially the one above, and I rough sketched the terrain several times before I realized that the map needed that sketch quality, and a wildly scribbled draft became the final.  It felt like armchair quarterbacking – not seeing the site, but in the end, I felt like the map captured the quiet raggedness of the place and the people that got run over by a runaway wildfire.

The Thirtymile FireThe Thirtymile Fire

The Spread of the Thirtymile Fire – animation of fire progression modeling from Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory

Postscript.  A year after making the map I was on a fire in Eastern Oregon watching a hotshot crew burn out a grass and timbered slope across the creek from the highway I was on.  Their lookout was watching from the same turnout from me, and I noticed that he was from the Entiat Hotshots – a local crew that had been on the fire the day that it blew up.  I had a chance to show him a dirty ragged copy of the map that I had in my bag.  Here were some of those eyeballs that had seen it go down –  quietly, “Yeah, that’s about how it happened”.

Water Education Poster

Here is a poster design for the Butte Environmental Council. The background graphic is from a hand-drawn map that we created with Sharpie at 36×48″.

Satellite Image Analysis

We have been using satellite imagery and remote sensing for the last 15 years on a wide-variety of mapping projects, and are interested in collaborating on efforts that use mapping to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of local water use and management. Here are some example images that we have built recently using multispectral LANDSAT imagery.

Left to Right – The Sacramento River, Chico, Paradise, Concow, Lake Oroville (Click to zoom)

Left to right – Stony Creek, Orland, Sacramento River, Chico (Click to zoom)

Purples and pinks are hot in this image. Dark greens are orchards, and bright greens are field crops and alfalfa.
Rice shows up as dark green where it is still flooded, and as bright green where the fields are being dried out for harvest.
Basically anything that is irrigated is shades of green, pink fields are either grazing land, fallow fields, or dry wheat.

There are some interesting details in the imagery – for example, on center left, you can see how hot the gravel bars are in the stream corridor of Stony Creek, or the tarmac is at the Chico Airport. Bidwell Park shows up as a cool island among the hot streets of Chico, and you can see just how scorching Southeast Chico is with all of the parking lots and no large trees. Also, the Cohasset, Mangrove, and Nord Ave corridors in Chico show up as very hot in this August 2011 image.

We are interested in developing new applications for this technology. Some of the ideas that we are interested in pursuing include using these broad-scale tools to look into optimizing water temperatures in rice fields, and more accurately inventorying water and land use across multiple jurisdictions.

Historic Vegetation of Whiskeytown

Here is a project that our Chief of Operations Zeke Lunder did for Whiskeytown National Recreation area a few years ago.
The National Park Service wanted to create a display for their visitor center that showed what the vegetation had been like in the area when settlers first arrived. They provided mapping data from vegetation surveys taken in the 1950s and later, along with maps and survey observations taken by the original Federal land surveyors in the late 1800s. This data was analyzed to associate the specific types of trees observed in the first surveys with current soil and elevation maps, and the resulting data was used in a predictive modeling exercise that created mapping of potential historic vegetation patterns.

The final poster design used scans of the historic maps and photos along with modern elevation models and digital design. Research and writing to support this project by Kirsten Bovee.  Here is the resulting poster display.

Whiskeytown Historic Vegetation Poster Display

Westwood Millpond Historic Aerial Photo

Just did a quick project for our friends at Mountain Meadows Conservancy. They are working on a project to see what can be done to clean up the old millsite in Westwood, and part of that effort is looking at the exact layout of the historic sawmill vs. the current condition. They found an aerial photo from 1941, and Kirsten Bovee did some research to label the different buildings and infrastructure on the old photo. She sent us her labels, and then we designed a poster/map that shows that image with current property boundaries on top of it, along with a current aerial photo of the same site.

Westwood Millpond – 1941 – 2010

I think that it is remarkable how little has changed on the site in the last 50 years. All of the old foundations are still plainly visible, and the berm that held back the millpond stands out clearly on the 2010 image. I never had realized that the berm was also the main rail spur for trains dropping logs into the pond.

Download a full sized graphic of this poster image here:
30″x40″ prints of this poster are available on glossy photo paper or canvas for $50 – email us.