Emergency management applications of geospatial technologies

Applications of geospatial technologies for disaster management include emergency preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation. Geospatial technologies could have improved the characterization of geophysical, topographical, geological, and sociological factors important for mitigating the disastrous effects of the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12, 2010. Theilen-Willige (2010) used a GIS weighted overlay approach to produce maps representative of areas where factors affecting surface-near earthquake shock waves that aggregate and interfere with each other resulting in increasing vulnerability to soil amplification. This information in turn was used to create landslide and flooding susceptibility maps. By integrating the predictive products developed by Theilen-Willige with GIS base layers that spatially describe population distributions and the built environment, mitigation strategies could have been developed that could have saved many lives and could have minimized the disastrous effects of this seismic event. Geospatial technologies can be instrumental for determination of post-disaster impacts. For example, they have been used in recent years to model tsunamis (Walsh et al., 2000; Papathoma et al., 2003; and Keating et al., 2004). Chandrasekar et al., (2007) used GIS techniques to assess the impact of the Indian Ocean Tsunami that caused severe damage to coastal zones on December 26, 2004. Their methods enabled accurate mapping of inundation along the coastal villages of Kanyakumari District, India. The area of inundation was mapped by a field survey, superimposed on satellite imagery, and interpreted using GIS techniques. The results showed a variation in percentage of inundation from 7% to 39%. Accurate depiction of the range of inundation provides valuable information that can be combined with demographic data and tsunami early warning systems to minimize loss of life. Similarly, once a tsunami impacts land areas, more precise inundation information can help guide post-disaster rescue and response activities.

Post-disaster response begins with initial rescue and relief efforts, followed by recovery activities that can initiate mitigation procedures including development of series of pre-impact preparedness actions, in the literature often referred as "emergency response cycle" (Cutter, 2003). Cutter (2003) describes 'GI Science' applications citing examples of the use of GIS in the September 11 terrorist event and essential activities in the Coalition War in Iraq where spatial decision support systems helped identify command and control structures and movements of opposing forces and other activities. While Cutter (2003) maintains that "GI Science can, and should make a difference in emergency preparedness, response, recovery,and mitigation activities", she also warns that effective utilization of GI Science requires a more complete understanding by the GI Science community of the limitations and constraints of the practitioner community, and the lack of fundamental data in some of the most hazardous places.

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