The need for GIS in Natural disasters Emergencies such as hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions have impacted the globe since the beginning of time. Technological improvements have exponentially improved the global community’s ability to respond to the challenges presented by unexpected disasters.
Developments in GIS in Emergency have provided agencies with the ability to collaborate more efficiently and effectively. Emergency managers resolve natural disaster challenges using the Comprehensive Emergency Management (CEM) approach. CEM is broken down into four phases: mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery (Agency, 1995).
Mitigation strategies prior to natural disasters are essential to reduce loss of life and property by reducing the impact on populations. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), continuously works with local governments, states, and tribes regarding hazard mitigation plans with short- and long-term focus. These efforts have the overall intent of increasing education and awareness, building partnerships for risk reduction, aligning risk reduction objectives, prioritization of efforts, and communicating priorities (FEMA, 2020).
Flood hazard mapping is an exercise to define those coastal areas which are at risk of flooding under extreme conditions. As such, its primary objective is to reduce the impact of coastal flooding. Flood hazard mapping updates are part of the Risk Map program. This program identifies flood hazards, assesses flood risks, and provides accurate data to stakeholders and partners. These maps are dynamic and can be updated as terrain and environmental conditions change.
Disaster preparedness refers to measures taken to prepare for and reduce the effects of disasters. That is, to predict and—where possible—prevent them, mitigate their impact on vulnerable populations, and respond to and effectively cope with their consequences.
One successful use of GIS during natural disaster preparedness is the overland surge from hurricanes also known as the “SLOSH” model, used by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) (NOAA, 2020).
SLOSH models use current wind speed, distance, and direction in combination with precipitation predictions and topography to determine possible locations at risk of flooding during a storm. These efforts are critical to evacuation planning, leading to more effective communication and decision-making at all levels.
Geographic information systems are a key component utilized to communicate real-time information in a context that can be accessed by agencies collaborating to respond to time-sensitive missions.
GIS was employed by USACES to produce sharable digital overlays with information such as hydrologic and hydraulic models, flood inundation mapping, consequences models, and data management.
Disaster recovery (DR) is an organization’s ability to respond to and recover from an event that negatively affects business operations. The goal of DR methods is to enable the organization to regain the use of critical systems and IT infrastructure as soon as possible after a disaster occurs. To prepare for this, organizations often perform an in-depth analysis of their systems and create a formal document to follow in times of crisis.
One such technology that enables a clear concise spatial representation of the Earth’s surface is LiDAR or Light Detection and Ranging (National Ocean Service, 2020). In the year 2012, LiDAR was used during Hurricane Sandy, one of the deadliest and most destructive hurricanes.
NOAA and USGS coordination enabled the collection of high-resolution topographic and bathymetric elevation data. The LiDAR data was utilized to support studies aimed at hurricane recovery and construction, annotating changes in the earth’s surface elevations due to storm surge, validate storm-surge inundation predictions, and ecological assessments. Elevation data developed by the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013 were added to the 3DEP and developed into NOAA’s “Digital Coast”, a centralized user-friendly information collection that is cost-effective with high accuracy (GIS Contributor, 2017).
GIS is vital to all phases of the emergency management process, leading to a faster, more concise equipped response team. GIS integration into disaster management enables higher levels of planning, analysis, situational awareness, and recovery operations.