By Mladen Stojic, vice president, Geospatial, Intergraph (www.intergraph.com), Norcross, Ga.
We live in a world where natural disasters increasingly impact massive populations. Natural disasters—from earthquakes and floods to hurricanes and wildfires—can strike almost anywhere at any time, with no regard for a government’s financial resources. The recent devastation by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, which forced nearly 2 million people from their homes and affected 13 million more, underscores how vulnerable large human population centers can be.
Virtually every nation is vulnerable to the financial fallout and infrastructure damage from these types of disasters. Physical and economic damages occur immediately, often accompanied by lingering effects over time, such as the eventual loss of annual crops from extreme heat.
The role of disaster management and planning never has been more important. Weather events, which seem to be escalating in frequency and intensity, are the most common. In 2012, 93 percent of the 905 natural disasters recorded worldwide were due to weather events. It’s nearly impossible to isolate large populations from catastrophic weather-related incidents.
Expanding Geospatial Information’s Role
Because of the geographic impacts of disasters, emergency management operations fundamentally depend on geospatial technologies and solutions to successfully prevent, mitigate, prepare, respond and recover. Geospatial information plays a critical role in all five phases of disaster management and can shed light on many key activities.
Underpinning these efforts is the need for standardized data from a variety of sources, allowing shared information across multiple entities. For a municipality or local government, a large-scale disaster means welcoming a host of relief agencies, nongovernment organizations and affected government organizations to communicate, collaborate and share data.
Geospatial solutions help disaster managers rapidly author, fuse, analyze, manage and deliver data that are crucial for up-to-date situational awareness as well as response and recovery efforts. And they’re directly related—using geographic information to prepare for a disaster can lead to positive outcomes during and after such an event.
There are several ways geospatial data and solutions can be used successfully during the five phases of emergency management:
Prevention, Mitigation and Preparedness
Geospatial solutions facilitate managing and reporting key insights that ultimately save lives and infrastructure. They enhance planning efforts in the following areas:
• Transportation system analysis to create evacuation plans
• Environmental planning and analysis, including land and topographic analysis, change detection and other modeling exercises
• Mapping for public evacuation plans
• Analysis to inform zoning and land use
• Installation of warning devices
• Maps to inform emergency responders in training exercises
• Risk assessment and contingency planning
• Flood analysis
Response and Recovery
Geospatial solutions help users ingest, organize, manage, fuse and deliver historic and rapidly updated geospatial imagery, geographic information system (GIS) data, light detection and ranging (LIDAR) imagery, photos, video, reports and other supporting information. Comprehensive data integration creates actionable information, which helps inform all disaster response participants—from decision makers to responders on the ground to affected citizens. These capabilities include:
• Web mapping that supports real-time information
• Damage assessments
• Population analysis to quickly understand the number of affected citizens and their needs (e.g., tents, water, food, shelter, medical)
• Rapid identification of potential
areas to support shelters, planning and staging areas, field command and response stations, supply and medical
stations and other logistical operations (e.g., safe vs. hot zones)
• Analysis of available transportation networks and traffic routes for navigating the disaster area
• Understanding the location and availability of critical facilities (hospitals, nursing homes, utilities, electricity, communications, etc.) to support the affected population and responders
• Analysis of available land, buildings, critical infrastructure, and hazards for both short- and long-term recovery efforts
Preparing for a Natural Disaster
Clearly, geospatial solutions are invaluable during a humanitarian crisis. By understanding the value of geospatial information, governments can effectively plan ahead. One of the challenges of natural disaster planning is working with outdated jurisdictional information. It is vital for agencies and jurisdictions to keep their data relevant. Tools that constantly update spatial databases from the field and in the office help agencies stay current and ultimately save lives in the process.
Geospatial server products play a major role in helping these organizations manage and share large datasets, as they possess powerful cataloguing and indexing capabilities. Such products facilitate a central repository, offering refreshed content to jurisdictions and agencies at state, local and federal levels. A high degree of automatic security and performance is built into these solutions.
For example, when Hurricane Sandy struck Virginia Beach, Va., in the fall of 2012, Intergraph was able to take the city’s discrete digital elevation models (DEMs), create a mosaic and integrate the models into one easily accessible database.
With ERDAS IMAGINE, the company delivered critical DEMs in less than 24 hours and within six inches of accuracy. In addition, the information delivered through ERDAS APOLLO helped create the DEMs, which were used to immediately target specific evacuation areas. The DEMs helped emergency responders accurately predict storm surges.
“We didn’t evacuate a nearby peninsula because we predicted the hit would be minor, and we were correct,” said Rob Jessen, City of Virginia Beach GIS coordinator. “Being able to precisely predict impacts when a storm is coming, and only use the [Virginia Beach Alert] system where and when it’s absolutely necessary, has really improved the response rates. The feedback we’ve received has been so positive that we’ve expanded the alert beyond land lines to cell phones, so residents can register for alerts at home and work locations.”
Acting When Disaster Strikes
Advanced planning also enables more effective response and recovery. For example, while the devastation of Hurricane Katrina served as a lesson for government disaster response, it also revealed the power of geospatial information, such as radar imagery. With the ability to create actionable imagery through clouds, fog and smoke, radar has become an ideal data source for disaster response (see Exploring the Benefits of Active vs. Passive Spaceborne Systems).
Recently, as severe flooding swept through Colorado, Intergraph worked with S.C. Air National Guard’s Eagle Vision IV to prepare maps for responders, including processing radar imagery as it became available. Eagle Vision used ERDAS IMAGINE to extract and rapidly identify flooded areas. Within 24 hours of receiving the raw data, actionable information was created and distributed to emergency responders who planned routes and performed search and rescue missions. The easy-to-use workflows allowed emergency responders without specific expertise in using radar imagery to extract critical information from the imagery in a timely manner.
Rising to the Challenge
Based on the high volume of disasters during the past year, we seem to be entering an era where these events are the new norm. One way to counter the rise in natural disasters is by embracing next-generation geospatial solutions, which provide the tools and insight needed to make smarter decisions that save lives.
By ensuring the proper technologies are in place to analyze and share data, jurisdictions of all sizes, from federal to state to local governments, can better manage the five phases of disasters. Armed with these solutions, governments can rise to the challenge of disaster management.