When the Alabama Department of Homeland Security was created in 2003, it was tasked with protecting 67 counties, several major waterways and nuclear plants, a port and 28 other critical assets. To do that, it needed an inexpensive, secure and common information-sharing platform that would combine thousands of pieces of information from across the state. Virtual Alabama, as it is known, debuted this month and uses Google Earth Fusion Technology to integrate large volumes of GIS data into a consistent, 3-D graphical display. It meshes maps of infrastructure, flood zones, evacuation routes and school districts with data from traffic cameras, weather stations and other databases to assist first reponders in real-time applications that include emergency evacuation routing, toxic-plume modeling, critical infrastructure mapping and implementation of protective measures during emergencies. Virtual Alabama, which cost $150,000, currently includes imagery of more than 40 percent of the state, and has more than 700 users representing at least 168 agencies across Alabama. To learn more, visit www.virtual.alabama.gov.