GEOG 858
Spatial Data Science for Emergency Management

Hazards and Disasters


There is a very wide range of hazards and disasters we must consider when planning and implementing geospatial solutions for emergency management. It is easy to focus on the very large and obvious events - things like hurricanes, earthquakes, and disease epidemics. For many geospatial managers, however, there are day-to-day emergency situations on a local level that deserve plenty of attention: house fires, auto accidents, and violent crimes - just to name a few.

In this lesson, you will consider some of the characteristics of disaster and emergency events in three main ways. On this page, you will explore how different organizations track and provide up to date information on emergencies around the world - A key message that will become evident is that there are many diverse disasters and emergencies occurring at any given time. On the following pages, you will read about some specific hazards and disasters and how they are understood from a geospatial perspective, and you will do a hands-on hazard and damage assessment.

Let's jump in! The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) keeps a running tab of declared disaster events in the US. You've probably heard of these on the news when the President declares a location a "Federal Disaster Area". In addition to these alerts, FEMA now publishes quite a few interesting summary maps of recent disasters at their GeoPlatform. Please spend some time looking at the various components of the FEMA GeoPlatform. While there, think about what information is provided - DataHubs like this are becoming popular and useful tools for providing external facing data and mapping services. Who is the target audience for this? Is this a potential data source or is it locked down? Some of these pages rely on Esri Story Maps, a tool you will use later in the course. You might want to bookmark this to come back to as we talk about different types of Hazards and Disasters and when new events happen in the United States as we work through this course.

screenshot of the Hurricane Incident Journal
One of the approaches FEMA is taking with GeoPortal is providing Story Maps such as their Hurricane Incident Journal. Take a look at this example for 2018 Hurricane Florence by clicking on this image.
Credit: FEMA

Next, have a quick look at the following presentation prepared for a daily FEMA Geospatial Coordination Conference Call for Hurricane Lane as it passed near Hawaii in the summer of 2018 (You looked at a similar one of these in Lesson 1 focused on Hurricane Maria). These briefings describe the state of Situation Awareness, particularly from a geospatial readiness perspective. We’ll revisit this concept in coming lessons but for now, note the range of actors and their different roles/viewpoints on this event. This is also a much more technical view than what is provided in the GeoPlatform, and you can find some of the data behind this on their GIS portal.

Finally, a complementary example identifying and tracking emergencies and disasters can be found on a map developed by the Emergency and Disaster Information Service (EDIS) to provide information on a wide range of hazards and disasters around the world. Take a look at this application called EventMap.

Interactive mape of the world showing current disasters taking place. It is updated every 5 minutes
Hazards and disasters around the world. Click on the image to see an updated map. It is updated every 5 minutes

There are other examples like this that we will come across during this course and as part of future lessons, and we will also look at geospatial tools for understanding particular events on a much more detailed level. Next, you will consider some hazards and disasters in greater detail through this week's readings.