Emergency Management GIS

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Although it is nearly impossible to be completely ready for an emergency or disaster situation, a geographic information system (GIS) can aid in making this process. GIS is useful in all aspects of disaster management: from mitigation to planning, to response and recovery. With a proper system and preparation, leaders can have a much clearer and complete picture at their fingertips. [1]


Mitigation aims to prevent emergencies or at least reduce the likelihood or effect of emergencies. When it comes to emergency management, this is the most important step. GIS can help by mapping out critical assets and by giving more opportunity to determine the best practices to protect these assets, as well as the most likely emergencies that might occur. For example, if a truck is transporting hazardous materials, it is important to plan the best route (which is most often not the quickest route) to minimize exposure, should an accident happen. [2]

Planning and Preparation

Once risks and assets have been assessed, the next step is making splans for various “what-if” scenarios. GIS can map the likely outcome of disasters. These plans can include selections of the best evacuation sites and routes to clear the emergency area. All key facilities, such as hospitals, food suppliers, and police, can be mapped and easily located in an emergency situation. Data pertaining to the area and disaster preparedness can be stored so the information can be distributed when needed.

Training exercises test these incident action plans to help create a clear understanding and identify any problems. [2][3]


Using social media sites to aid in emergency response

Once an emergency has occurred, all the previous planning steps can be put into action. One of the most important steps is revisiting the prediction models and revamping them to reflect the current emergency. After the most current and correct information is known, the public can be safety notified of the situation and how to respond. GIS can aid in the notification by pinpointing addresses of people, businesses or other organizations that are most affected. Information can be compiled to show heavily populated locations, giving responders an idea of where to start rescue efforts and where to send supplies.[4][2] Depending on how severe the emergency is, land markers, such as buildings and signs, may no longer be around or usable. Maps marking the coordinates of these markers before the emergency become invaluable to responders working the scene. [5] Most recently, updates from users of social media sites have been used to aid in the response efforts. Being able to map the location of updates from websites like Twitter and YouTube gives more insight into where disasters are happening and how they are progressing. [6]


In the aftermath of a disaster, many factors must be evaluated. GIS provides a centralized location to store information needed to assess damage. This aids in long- and short-term cleanup efforts.[2] Once the rebuilding has begun, crews can use GIS maps showing the locations fire hydrants, gas meters, and water lines. Because clear markers can sometimes be missing after emergencies, it is important that workers avoid hitting them and possibly creating more problems. Maps showing original signage locations can quickly and efficiently help to determine what needs to be replaced. Once signs are put into place, rebuilding efforts are made easier. [7]

See Also


  1. [1], GIS Aids Emergency Response, Accessed 20 September 2011
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 [2], Geographic Information Systems Providing the Platform for Comprehensive Emergency Management, Accessed 20 September 2011
  3. [3], Emergency Management: GIS for Comprehensive Emergency Management, Accessed 20 September 2011
  4. [4], GIS for Disaster Recovery, Accessed 20 September 2011
  5. Cova, T.J.(1999) GIS in emergency management. In: Geographical Information Systems: Principles, Techniques, Applications, and Management, P.A. Longly, M.F. Goodchild, D.W. Rhind (eds.), John Wiley & Sons, New York, 845-858
  6. [5], Map Tracks Irene With Innovative Combination of Official Data and Social Media Input, Accessed 20 September 2011
  7. [6], Recovering from Katrina:GIS-based asset and maintenance management system helps Gulfport weather the storm, Accessed 20 September 2011

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