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Using GIS During an Emergency

There are dozens of applications of GIS technology. Last month, I wrote about 10 ways GIS can influence governance. One of the more interesting ways, and quickly emerging, is using GIS during an emergency.

I recently read a case study from the ESRI website, Larimer County GIS Builds Customer Web App to Empower Emergency Managers, and found this to be a great example of how GIS is impacting emergency management. I’d encourage you to check out the post here.

The author of the post was Royce Simpson, GIS Programmer Analyst, Larimer County, Colorado. Royce provided some demographic information about Larimer County. The County is home to nearly 300,000 citizens and holds nearly 29 cities and towns. Like many county governments, Larimer County collects and stores data related to shelters and critical infrastructures, such as police and fire stations, public facilities and schools.

Royce states, “When coupled with census and derived Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) HAZUS-MH layers, a rich, queryable tapestry becomes readily available. Map visualization provides a holistic overview of the incident, while actionable reports come from performing spatial queries.”

This kind of information is critical to managers during an emergency. Managers need to quickly be able to see what infrastructures may be in jeopardy, high population areas, high risk communities and where to send services. With GIS, this can be done nearly instantly and improve the decision making process during a crisis. What is interesting to consider is that even though GIS is remarkable technology, there is a significant amount of training that takes place behind the scenes. Even though a manager is equipped with all the tools to make an informed decision, significant training is still required for the manager to think clearly, know the resources of the community, and remain calm throughout the emergency.

Royce identifies three ways that during an emergency GIS tools are used, “allows instant collaboration, Visualizes population and infrastructure vulnerabilities, Visualizes and manages the allocation of resources with their associated hazards.” These are all critical elements to disaster recovery, and mitigating the impact of a crisis on a community.

There are some other interesting points to consider, often GIS is tied into a mobile strategy, so people on the ground and in the field can quickly report back to an emergency center. Maps can instantly be changed, and new information can be used to help decision makers.

What are the benefits you see of GIS during a crisis?

When Esri was founded in 1969, it realized even then that geographic information system (GIS) technology could make a difference in society. GIS helps people to solve problems at local, regional, national, and global scales. Access maps and apps at ArcGIS.com. Check out the Communications & Citizen Engagement Sub-Community of which they are a council member.

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