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Geographic Information Systems and Emergency Management

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are recognized as an essential tool in the preparation for,  response to and recovery from disasters and emergency events. A GIS is a computerized mapping technology that allows for the display and analysis of the world around us. A map presents a Common Operating Picture so emergency responders are aware of the scope of the disaster, where important areas of concern are, where operations are located as well as providing damage assessment information and the location and status of Critical Infrastructure. Other items include locations of fire hydrants, buildings, shelters or food and water distribution. Healthcare facilities or medicine points of distribution, pharmacies, traffic control and road closures can all be communicated to responders from non-local agencies.

GIS support for emergency managment can be hard copy or digital:

Hardcopy GIS maps – Most convenient for working in the field, hardcopy maps range from individual handhelp maps to wall-size posters to reach a larger audience. Map books allow for very detailed maps covering a large area in an indexed book format. See the legend for our emergency response map book here.

Digital GIS maps – These can be stand alone applications that work on a PC or laptop in the field. Given that an Internet connection may not be available in the field or otherwise, this is a reliable option.

Internet websites can be modified or developed to serve up the rapidly changing Common Operating Picture to First Responders, the public and the media. Lake County GIS had the evacuation area related to the CSX train derailment online within 15 minutes of designation. A 2006 Millennial Flood portal was also provided to assist the general public and FEMA.  

Other examples of GIS used in disaster response include the International Charter – Space and Major Disasters and the GISCorps which has deployment experience to Hurricane Katrina and 160 other missions.