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Local software delves into ‘What if?' scenarios

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By Kurt Batdorf
Special to The Herald
Published:
EVERETT -- Let's say you're a business owner who likes to play "what if?" with disaster scenarios.
What if a flood means my employees can't get to work?
Will my office or shop be flooded if a 10-foot storm surge hits the Snohomish River?
What if a powerful earthquake damages bridges and highways?
Or, let's say you're doing some market research for your business.
Where do my customers live?
Where are my competitors in relation to my business?
What might be a good location to expand my operation?
You might be able to answer those questions -- if you have time to go to myriad websites and pore over pages and documents looking for the right link to the right data. And then, how do you put any of it in perspective, much less try to use multiple data points?
That's where Depiction software enters the scene.
Depiction allows small-business owners, emergency managers, disaster volunteers, families and first responders to find location-based answers for the "what ifs?" they may face, said Depiction Inc. founder and board chairman Mike Geertsen.
"This helps people tell stories about their lives," he said. "It lets you mix the real and fantasy, lets you ask that 'What if?' "
The idea for Depiction started as a Microsoft project when the company's game group was asked to retool some of its technology for the Department of Defense for flight simulation, Geertsen said. When that didn't pan out, he left Microsoft in 2005 and founded Depiction Inc., opening in Everett in 2006.
The basic idea for Depiction was to get that data-driven technology to a level a Red Cross volunteer could use, Geertsen said.
Depiction users start answering their questions by entering an address or geographic point, which then generates an on-screen map that users can size as they'd like. Users connected to the Internet then can add any of up to 17 online data sources that Depiction tracks, including satellite imagery, earthquakes, historical hurricane and tornado tracks, bodies of water, streets, topography, weather forecasts, wildfires and more.
Depiction users can also add an array of data points to the map by choosing an element definition and clicking on the map. If that's not enough, users can import any spreadsheet data from .csv files and digital maps saved as .jpg or .bmp files.
With the data in place on the user's map, it's then a matter of manipulating variables to see what happens in any scenario.
"It's almost like a 'Sim City' (video simulation game) now," Geertsen said. "It's a living world. You haven't just built a map."
Depiction's five employees scour the Internet to keep data links from government and university Web portals and commercial sources up to date, but Depiction doesn't store any data in its modest suite in the Washington State Council of County and City Employees office in Everett*.
In fact, the Depiction maps and downloaded data are stored on each Depiction user's own computer, not on Web. CEO Richard Smith said the company saw more benefit in saving files to users' disks, particularly for those who go to disaster areas without Internet access.
Geertsen said Depiction supports all open standards. It's analogous to building a house: Depiction is the foundation on which users can build whatever they need.
"We're not the experts on how this works," said marketing manager Tim Goddard.
Snohomish County Depiction users include the city of Everett, Snohomish County Emergency Management, Red Cross, Salvation Army, Port of Everett, Premera Blue Cross, Community Transit, Housing Hope, YMCA, The Everett Clinic and Mark Wolken Consulting.
For $199, Depiction is an affordable way for business owners to create their own continuity plans to prepare for disaster when they're not using it to craft market strategies. It works on Windows XP or newer systems, but not on a Mac.
Business workshop lets you try Depiction
Wednesday, June 8, take part in an innovative virtual business continuity exercise that will leverage Depiction's software to help you prepare your business for disaster. See the potential effects of a 7.4-magnitude earthquake on your business, get expert advice on other potential disasters and how to prepare for them, and learn how to build a visual disaster plan to help your doors stay open.
Included in the exercise is a full copy of Depiction, and if you bring spreadsheets of employees, customers and other business relationships, you can walk away with an interactive disaster planning scenario customized for your business. Depiction Inc. is partnering with Emc4 consulting to make this opportunity available.
Go to www.depiction.com/bcexercise to register or for more information or email info@depiction.com.
Kurt Batdorf is editor of the Snohomish County Business Journal. kbatdorf@scbj.com or 425-339-3102.
*This story has been corrected.

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