GEOG 588
Planning GIS for Emergency Management

Recovering from Disasters


Seventeen days after Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans, much of the city is still under water. In this pair of images from the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer on NASA's Terra satellite, the affected areas can clearly be seen. The top image was acquired in 2000, and the bottom image was acquired September 13, 2005.

This pair of images showing the impact of Hurriance Katrina was gathered with NASA's Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER).

The flooded parts of the city appear dark blue, such as the golf course in the northeast corner, where there is standing water. Areas that have dried out appear light blue gray, such as the city park in the left middle. On the left side of the image, the failed 17th Street canal marks a sharp boundary between flooded city to the east, and dry land to the west. The images cover an area of 10.4 x 7.1 kilometers and are centered near 30 degrees north, 90.1 degrees west.

The boundary between response and recovery is a fuzzy one as is that between recovery and mitigation. It is useful to think of the stages of emergency/crisis management as a circle with each stage blending into the next. The roles of GIS can be conceptualized as occupying (often overlapping) positions along this circle.

This overlap in functions was never more apparent than with the 2005 Katrina Hurricane disaster to hit New Orleans. In the midst of efforts to rescue people stranded by flood waters, politicians and others began discussing how or whether to rebuild the city--opening what will probably be a long dialogue about the potential to rebuild in a way that is more resistant to future similar events and comparing the economic and other costs of this option with suggestions to not rebuild at all or to relocate the entire city. Similarly, while levee repairs and rescue efforts continued, work began in some parts of the city to start on recovery--with spatial tasks ranging from figuring out where displaced individuals were, through assessing damage in regions of the city to determine whose insurance claims of disaster relief requests to process first, to re-establishing utilities, fixing roads, and other efforts to establish infrastructure required to carry out whatever recovery efforts were decided upon.

Organizations like the Ocean Conservancy can advocate for their preferred long term recovery strategies by leveraging geospatial technologies and analysis methods. This map shows the areas of need that they saw emerging from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.

As you read the course materials and other resources this week, think about strategies that are needed to develop GIS as general capability through which governments and other organizations can address the full range of emergency management challenges. Consider, in particular, what strategies are needed to make the process of using GIS to support each stage of emergency management seamless--so that it is practical for emergency management teams to move quickly from the planning to the recovery stage as an event happens and to move among response, recovery, and planning-mitigation tasks as needed.

Also consider one common constraint - quite often the provisioning given to GIS systems to support emergency management is focused on preparedness and response phases. It's a lot harder to convince people to invest in new systems to support long-term recovery efforts.