When Disaster Strikes, Cloud GIS Helps Save Lives

by | Jan 30, 2013

AURORA, Colo., Jan. 22, 2013”People worried about getting caught in an earthquake will be relieved to know there's an app for that. The iPhone app, Earthquake Buddy, which was recently featured at an IEEE conference, sends a warning email to those in 5.0 and higher earthquakes to alert them of impending danger. If users fail to respond in a given amount of time, someone sends the cavalry.

This app, which could be very handy in some parts of the world, is the result of a combination of technologies, including remote sensors, cloud computing and geographic information systems (GIS).

The power of GIS technology lies in its ability to combine location-based information with other data to perform complex analyses to gain insights and automate processes in ways never before possible, says Dr. Stephen McElroy, GIS program chair at American Sentinel University. GIS is used in many phases of disaster management and this starts before an event actually happens.

Dr. McElroy notes that in the immediate aftermath of a serious disaster, such as an earthquake, the most pressing needs facing GIS managers is to estimate the impact of the disaster on the local population where first responders need to focus their rescue efforts.

Professionals who have earned a degree in GIS understand how to make the technology work. However, organizations can still see limitations in their abilities to use GIS, particularly in remote offices that might not have the same speedy access to corporate data centers as a headquarters or regional facility.

Technicians and geospatial analysts use GIS technology to collect, store, analyze and share geospatial information needed by agencies to effectively support operations, aid disaster relief and restore disaster-affected areas.

These are just some of the reasons why the appearance of GIS as cloud-provided services is so important in the development of this technology.

GIS technicians can add flexibility and options that are unavailable any other way, largely due to the inherent capabilities of cloud computing, and includes the following:

-Centralized resources: Cloud computing can allow a company or its service provider to centrally deploy and manage GIS resources. That reduces the cost of management complexity.

-Service delivery everywhere: When software is deployed locally, users are dependent on being within the reach of the organization's data center. With cloud delivery, users can be virtually anywhere that an Internet connection exists.

-Leverage all sorts of mobile devices: In a traditional GIS implementation, software might run on a server or a desktop. But in either case, users are bound to the office. With a cloud deployment, it's possible to provide access through any sort of device, including smartphones and tablets, improving the organization's operational flexibility.

-Use a service provider's expertise: Having GIS experts on staff doesn't eliminate the costs and complexities of using the associated software. Companies may need to train IT staff on how to run the applications. With cloud access from a vendor, a company can make use of the capabilities and leave issues of maintenance, configurations, and upgrades to people whose full-time job it is to manage the software in question.

-Scale up or down: When a company runs software on its own premises in traditional configurations, adding users can be complicated. The company might have to order new servers and undertake a system upgrade. With cloud computing, a company that needs to ramp up GIS use simply adds users to the monthly contract and can then scale back down to save money.

In our technology-hungry world any company that might use GIS internally or for customer applications and cannot afford for the data to be accessible for a long period of time should strongly consider whether a cloud implementation might offer some compelling benefits, adds Dr. McElroy.

Learn more about American Sentinel University's GIS degrees at http://www.americansentinel.edu/online-degree/bachelor-degree-online/bachelor-gis-degree.php.

About American Sentinel University

American Sentinel University delivers the competitive advantages of accredited associate, bachelor’s and master’s online degree programs focused on the needs of high-growth sectors, including information technology, computer science, GIS masters programs, online GIS certificates, computer information systems and business intelligence degrees. The university is accredited by the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC), which is listed by the U.S. Department of Education as a nationally recognized accrediting agency and is a recognized member of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.


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