Tag Archives: GIS

Mapping a Disaster

One of the roles of government is to lead during a time of disaster. One of the key elements to success in that role is appropriate and successful crisis communication.

Communication during the response phase of a disaster requires a sense of place.

Where is the incident occurring? Where do I go? My grandmother’s cabin is on Puppy Ridge- Is she okay?

Now this is the moment so many of my friends say…

  • I have 9 years experience using ArcGIS and a masters in XYZ.
  • Are you developing in HTML5 or Silverlight?
  • I’m a GIS Professional and I’m here to help!

My reply over the last couple of years with the amazing staff I’ve had the privilege to work with has been…

Let those that own the information OWN the map. 

I  found the most successful implementation for me was when the folks who are professional data crunchers and creators support the information owners. Geeks do this by posting the complicated stuff up, but are otherwise free to process the data coming in on GPS units, query the parcel databases from the county, and create complicated maps for the people conducting the firefighting.

The information most important to the public is often different that what is needed by the responders:

  • Evacuation Areas
  • Shelter locations
  • Community Meeting locations
  • Disaster Response Centers
  • News Media Briefing sites
  • Road Closures/Blocks (okay that one is very important to both)

To support the Public Information Officers (PIOs) I did what I thought was right…

I made them the simple map they needed– then I stepped back and became coach / cheerleader.

What does that mean in implementation……..

  1. An individual creates an “incident” map typically locating the shelter, the general incident location, if there are road closures and where the media should meet the agency folks.
  2. The individual then shares the editing capabilities with their trusted circle of 2-5 people (typically an interagency group). This is closed. If an agency is putting their logo on top they should know what they are presenting. BUT- it should be able to be mashed up or used in other applications as others like the state or Google.org put it together at a higher level.
  3. The team embeds the map into the blog, tweet it, put it on the website and share it with all of their media friends. If we’re lucky then put it into their news stories, websites, show it on TV, and broadcast your message for you. Other agencies will mash it up with other maps or data streams.
  4. As the incident evolves points (shelters), lines (closed roads), and areas (fire perimeters) are added to the map. The uncomplicated ones are drawn directly onto the map and the complicated ones are uploaded via KML… why? Because these professionals have Google Earth on their computers and learned how to draw that in 30 minutes.
  5. As the incident gets much more complicated the GIS Specialist (GISS) on the incident processes complicated data and uploads it to the map. Uploads are done on a daily up to hourly basis depending on the ever changing situation.
    <NOTICE> This is the first real instance of the specialized map geek helping out on the map!!!!!! </ALERT>

Other things to keep in mind-

  • Clear, colorful pictograph symbols are very important
  • Mobile usability is vital
  • Driving directions to points such as shelters are highly desired
  • Data should be able to be downloaded or consumed in other applications
  • A map that tracks hits and where traffic is being directed from is highly valuable to calculate return on investment

So the goal is better service for the affected and interested public but that means no programming and no separation of the map from the crisis communicators. This platform is intended to distribute vital information and simultaneously update all instances that are distributed through various mediums.

Now some may say this is hearsay, some may cite book and chapter of the incident command system at me, and some may say- who are you to try and change the old school ways? To which I answer- the word of the year for 2013 is disruption.

This is a partnership not a rivalry

it’s not about who does what as much as how do we serve better.
I have been involved in incident response, emergency management, or public safety in one form or another for over a decade. I am a Geospatial Geek. I have made incident maps seen by millions of people (instead of my old normal 50-2,500). Best of all… I have shown up on an incident where the map is created, embedded in the blog, on the DenverPost, and I just had to check out the online map to sit down and start cranking something out for the operations side.

I am looking for new tools for the 2014 season and I am hoping over the winter/spring to test and explore the workflows. If there are solutions found I’ll  share them here.