Mods and Adds: Developing tools for offline Safecast data processing in the field

During emergency situations, online services (including maps) may not be reliable. In the worst case no connection to the internet is available or connection is too slow. Similar situations also occur during measuring events for mobile groups working with the Czech National Radiation Protection Institute (SÚRO) in areas with insufficient coverage, for example in mountainous areas. Thus, it is important to have a system that is fully operational, also in offline mode. Safecast provides great online services – the Tile Map, the API etc. – but usually users cannot easily view bGeigie LOG files without connection to the internet.

A newly developed QGIS plugin, designed and developed by several parties, including older conversion utility created by Marek Helebrant provides a solution capable of viewing and analysing the geospatial data generated when making radiation measurements with a Geiger counter, for example a bGeigie, and easily view it in map form – even when offline.  

The pluging can be found here.

SÚRO and the Safecast bGeigie

The Czech National Radiation Protection Institute included Safecast bGeigie Nano portable devices as a mobile part of the network developed within the RAMESIS Research Project (ID:VI20152019028) solved in the framework of security research founded by the Czech Ministry of the Interior.

The goal of the RAMESIS project is to establish a citizen monitoring network, based both on the network of fixed monitoring points equipped with newly developed simple and cheap fixed monitoring stations and on mobile monitoring using the bGeigies Nano, and to create supporting tools. As part of the project, detectors are lent to public institutions like schools etc. and individuals for free, and all measurement data is subsequently uploaded to the Safecast database.

From console to GIS

The first attempt included semi-manual processing LOG files in spreadsheet editors like LibreOffice Calc, saving the processed data to CSV file and displaying them in QGIS. Bluntly put, a really annoying and time-consuming procedure. It was simple to make unintentional mistakes by deleting or somehow moving part of the data.

We needed something automatic to process the LOG files to a more suitable format. Based on these requirements, Marek Helebrant programmed a simple, command line-operated conversion utility.

Screenshot

The utility read LOG files from input folder, converts them into a CSV format and saves them into an output folder. No user interaction is needed – just run the utility and then close the window. In addition, it also calculates dose rate (using the coefficient provided by Safecast documentation) and is capable of performing minor changes in column names data, etc.

Thanks to the utility, it becomes simpler to open the CSV file in a spreadsheet editor like already mentioned Calc or Excel or upload it in any GIS program.

Using the Safecast QGIS plugin

Despite having an easy way to generate a CSV file from our measurement, it still requires several steps to get the data on the map offline. These manual steps – like choosing coordinate system or applying a style to the point layer – were always the same and unnecessarily delayed the processing. These steps have been automated with the new plugin. We also wanted to make this process easier for common users not very familiar with GIS applications.

Based on previous successful cooperation in connection with several GIS field projects, we discussed this with developers from OpenGeoLabs Ltd. and finally hired them to create a QGIS plugin for this purpose. QGIS was chosen for many reasons – including that it is free and open-source, available for various platforms and already used in our institute. The plugin shares the same license with QGIS – GNU GPL.

Screenshot showing our fully offline usable system – QGIS with Safecast plugin and custom styled offline vector OpenStreetMap data prepared by SÚRO (see the LOG data online here)

The plugin allows users to upload a LOG file directly without need to convert or set anything and applies a pre-selected color style automatically. The default style (dose-rate range 0.08 to 5.00 microSv/h) was designed for measurements at low dose rate levels (natural background) with more categories for lower values to distinguish natural background variations.

Plugin interface

The second available style (0.05 – 200.00 microSv/h) was designed to mimic the Safecast Tile Map default style. This is useful for areas with higher dose rate levels expected, like in the vicinity of Fukushima or Chernobyl, and would also be useful in connection with measuring after a suspected/actual radiation leak or similar accident/disaster.

Predefined styles – 0.08 to 5.00 microSv/h on the left and 0.05 – 200.00 microSv/h on the right.

The plugin also allows users to select and remove particular measured points and then save the corrected set as a new LOG file for uploading to the Safecast web map. No modification of the data values is possible. For more detailed description of the plugin features check the user manual available here.

For the purposes of the RAMESIS project we also created “supporting” files for QGIS – additional styles and map templates so it is much easier to create maps for printing/presentations like this one:

The template already contains all necessary items like legend, scale bar, editable text title etc. The default logo can easily be replaced, for example, by the logo of a school that borrowed the bGeigies Nano from SÚRO. It also includes additional graphic scale defining ranges for “natural background” and “danger zone”.

All of these templates have already been released to the public.The current version is only available in Czech, but an English version will follow shortly. The custom styled OpenStreetMap (OSM) data are only available for the Czech Republic now, but users can load OSM data directly or use Geofabrik OSM derived layers in Esri Shapefile format or own georeferenced maps. You do not need GIS knowledge to follow our tutorials/manuals to load a LOG file in QGIS with the plugin. It is easy to add offline maps prepared by us or online (following the manual). We are planning to develop an automatic tool for preparing custom styled offline maps from OSM data for any country or region.

In future, there will also be improvements on tools already present in the current version, as well as enhancements of the Safecast QGIS plugin to also show basis statistics for selected LOG files (max, min, average) for dose rate, speed and also information about distance travelled and time spent during the radiation measurements. An estimated dose calculation (based on knowledge of expected dose distribution) feature is also planned.

Safecast’s bGegigie and Jan Helebrant were recently featured on Czech TV. Click here to see the report.

About the Author

Marc Prosser

Marc is British, Danish, Geekish, Bookish, Sportish, and loves anything in the world that goes 'booiingg'. He is a freelance journalist and researcher living in Tokyo and writes about all things science and tech. He started volunteering for Safecast after writing articles about their work following the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami - and because he believes that data and technology should be open and readily available.