Crisis Response in a Geospatial Golden Age
12/20/2012 9:04 AM
By: Kevin Yount, Senior Project Manager
Superstorm Sandy might be a unique, once-in-a-lifetime event for residents of the mid-Atlantic coastline. But for emergency management officials, the challenges remain the same regardless of the event: define priorities and mobilize the right resources toward the right place, at the right time.
However, public expectations and the tools available for responders to meet those expectations are changing. GIS and geospatial technologies, as noted by Google as part of a “Golden Age of Cartography,” are among many technological and social drivers that are changing the face of crisis response activities.
An American Red Cross survey reported that more than two-thirds of adults expect emergency managers to monitor social networks and respond to crises accordingly. To help meet these expectations, GIS technology has expanded with a number of interconnected and relatively ‘open’ components in the last few years. REST APIs and Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) standards help facilitate data sharing, but practitioners often find it easier to connect systems, than to connect people. Increasingly, we see crowd-based initiatives that help bridge the social connections, spurring innovation and collaboration. FEMA has praised the collaborations of groups like Humanitarian OpenStreetMap and its site that validates damage assessment photos from the Civil Air Patrol. Often the crowd-sourced data and applications help augment more traditional response sites. For example, Fairfax County, Va., maintained two road-closure sites during the Sandy response.
Change agents like social media and mobile GIS technology present both challenges and opportunities for any public organization. And emergency management is no exception. Technology disruption is inevitable, just like the crises our emergency response officials face. Preparation for both is the key.