February 8, 2013 By Hilton Collins
The northeast is still in the thick of Hurricane Sandy relief and damage remediation, even though the disaster itself took place in fall 2012. Local authorities used modern tools like social media and GIS technology to assist relief efforts during the event and its aftermath. But technology still has a role to play in the recovery efforts for this disaster, and future emergencies.
GIS mapping technology plays a crucial role in helping public-sector employees identify hard-hit areas. Russ Johnson, Esri’s director of global public safety, answered Government Technology’s questions about how GIS technology affects disaster relief in crises like Sandy, and how it may evolve in the future.
The most powerful thing they can use it for is understanding where they have vulnerabilities based on historical events and raising the level of preparedness. But with that said, when something like Sandy hits, they often use it for identifying, first of all, what’s the impact or the parameter, and what is the damage associated with it.
One of the biggest problems that organizations have, particularly public safety, is, when we have this massive event, how do we allocate a finite amount of resources for rescue and recovery? What’s the protocol for doing that, how do we do it, where do we do it? One of the important roles GIS plays right up front is taking that damage perimeter, or information about where the impact is, and then bringing up layers of data regarding critical infrastructure. They can begin to see, in terms of priorities for life, property and natural resources, where are the key search and rescue areas, what are the key things we need to do to the infrastructure to get things back up and running again, and what natural resources do we need to preserve or protect or take action on?
Then as the event unfolds, typically you start getting imagery, and imagery is very important because it begins to give you a full picture of what has happened. Imagery can be infused, imported into GIS technology and used as another data layer. You begin to combine several layers, imagery, critical infrastructure, demographics, the event data, maybe even some dynamic information such as real-time weather or real-time stream gauges, and you get this virtual picture of what has happened.