GEOG 858
Spatial Data Science for Emergency Management

Geospatial Approaches and Technology in Emergency Management


We will begin our consideration of geospatial approaches and technologies related to emergency management by contrasting four perspectives. On this page, the role of geospatial analysis in the work of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is described. This includes some historical perspective on how FEMA's mission has evolved over the last 10 years or so. Next, we will focus on emergency management related applications developed by Esri, the peak GIS software company globally. Then, for a very different perspective, you will consider what the 'digital humanitarian' community is doing in response to factors like big data, volunteered geographic information (VGI) and social media. Finally, we will consider emergency management in light of cutting-edge technologies. Of course, all of these areas are interrelated, and we will cover much more as the course proceeds! The idea is to start building a context and framework for developing a deep understanding of the topics to come. 

First, we will take a look at the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA). If you're not familiar, FEMA is part of the US Department of Homeland Security and is the lead agency for preparing for, responding to and assisting with recovery from major disasters. Have a look at their website if you want to learn more. (As we move through the course, pay attention to the different roles that emergency management organizations play, particularly at local, state and federal levels, and the types of incidents they are responsible for). 

For a little context, here's what FEMA Enterprise GIS Services considers its mission with respect to GIS and Emergency Management. 

FEMA Enterprise GIS Services
Our primary mission is administration, coordination, collection, and dissemination of geographic information for FEMA and the Emergency Management Community under Emergency Support Function #5 (Information and Planning) of the National Response Framework and in support of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (PL 93-288) as amended. Our current concept of operations includes a full range of GIS services to all FEMA program offices that encompasses sophisticated geospatial analytics through the Mapping and Analysis Center (MAC) and deployable GIS technology through the Deployable Emergency GIS program (DEGS).

Let's dig deeper into this. First, consider this excerpt from FEMA's Mapping and Analysis Center in 2008 (note it is no longer maintained by FEMA and the MAC has evolved into other departments). Make a mental note of the range of functions that they focused on and some of the ways they went about their work. I wanted you to look at this old description, so you can contrast it with what FEMA does now, and more importantly to highlight how much has changed in a short period of time with regard to the ways geospatial products are generated and distributed. 

Now, let's jump ahead 10 years! Start with the interesting 2018 presentation slides from Chris Vaughan on GIS @ FEMA Working Smarter Through Data Analytics. Finally, have a look at the 20 September 2017 FEMA Geospatial Coordination Call briefing. This is a summary of 'situation awareness' for the day Hurricane Maria hit landfall in Puerto Rico and is quite comprehensive.

With this historical context, have a look at some of FEMA's current offerings at the FEMA Geospatial Resource Center "Hub". Notice the dashboard with a summary of current hazard events. Click on a few of the hazards and look at what's available. 

Consider these artifacts and reflect on what you see that may have changed in recent years, e.g., increasing focus on analytics and real-time.