GEOG 588
Planning GIS for Emergency Management

Disaster Preparedness


An Ounce of Preparation... worth a pound of cure, right? Often disaster situations do not present themselves with substantial warning. Some events, like earthquakes or terror attacks occur with little or no advanced warning. Other events, like hurricanes or tsunamis may allow for some substantial amount of time (ranging from an hour or two in the case of a tsunami to several days in the case of a hurricane) to prepare for the initial impact. No matter what the type of event, there are ways we can prepare by taking advantage of GIS capabilities.

Scenario-based Exercises

A highly regarded method for preparing for disasters involves the use of scenarios to conduct realistic exercises to simulate a crisis situation. For disasters that provide no advanced warning, this may be the only way to really prepare in advance. We'll go in depth on designing scenarios later on in Lesson 7, but for now you may want to review this short article describing how Montana has used exercises to prepare.

For Further Reading

Take a look at this ArcNews article on an exercise carried out in Montana designed to simulate a public health crisis. Many of the tools and technologies seem very out of date now - notice how this scenario has nothing at all about the use of mobile devices or receiving social media streams. This was only 10 years ago!

Simulating Disasters in GIS

GIS can support a key element of disaster preparation through computational simulation and modeling. A wide array of specialized modeling software extensions for ArcGIS are available. This software enables users to tweak disaster parameters and simulate damage patterns due to storms, earthquakes, disease outbreaks, and fires.

The output of these models can be viewed in static maps or interactive web tools. Some real-time modeling capabilities exist for emergency managers to test various parameters and visualize their potential impact, but few of these systems are available for free to the general public (very unfortunate!). The Pacific Disaster Center in Hawaii does quite a lot of work on modeling and visualizing model outputs for disaster scenarios. One example of their work can be found here, in a collection of scenarios on potential earthquakes in various locations on the Hawaiian islands. The cartography here makes me cringe a lot, but the underlying data is what's important.

One publicly available resource is provided by the USGS in the form of their Prompt Assessment of Global Earthquakes for Response (PAGER) system. PAGER provides rapid reporting on the potential impacts of recent earthquakes on human life and structures in easy-to-consume reports and maps.

The USGS PAGER system provides reports within 30 minutes to estimate the impact of recent earthquakes around the world. These reports can be used by emergency managers in the immediate aftermath to begin making decisons.

Real-Time Situation Assessment

While many sophisticated methods for modeling disaster impacts aren't yet publicly available in web tools, there are in fact a very large range of options now for free platforms used to evaluate and monitor a situation in progress. The Pacific Disaster Center's Global Hazards Atlas is one such system.

The Global Hazards Atlas, created by the Pacific Disaster Center, provides real-time monitoring for emergency situations in the Pacific Rim. Its tools allow emergency managers to explore historical data trends in the context of current events.