Supersizing Emergency Management with GIS
Homeland security activities are a superset of the traditional emergency
management cycle of risk assessment and planning, mitigation, preparedness,
response, and recovery. In addition to processes minimize the effects
of both natural and man-made disasters, homeland security includes
processes that educate the public and foster cooperation and communication.
GIS, which extends the capabilities of traditional
emergency management activities, is even more critical in homeland
security activities which require a much higher degree of coordination
across jurisdictions (federal, state, local) and a greater degree
of data integration. Threats to homeland security not only come
from dramatic acts of violence but can take the form of more insidious
attacks on agriculture, the information infrastructure, and the
This means that homeland security activities must
involve those outside the emergency management community. Emergency
management is cumulative--each phase builds on data and information
generated by the previous phase.
Risk Assessment and Planning
Before any meaningful mitigation or preparation
can occur, analysis of the hazards, risks, and likelihood of a terrorist
attack must be made. The modeling capabilities of GIS show planners
the effects of many types of attacks on critical resources, infrastructure,
and populations and can reveal additional problems caused by proximity
to hazards such as chemical storage. After identifying the hazards,
assessing the risks, and prioritizing the values (i.e., assets of
greatest value), both strategic and tactical plans are formulated.
With the information generated by risk assessment
and planning, steps can be taken to limit or, in some cases, eliminate
the effects of attacks. Preventing a terrorist event or minimizing
its effects involves activities carried out at different levels.
These activities can be as systemic as community health monitoring
or as targeted as identifying and limiting access to buildings or
information. Mitigation measures are carried out through changing
policy or operational procedures (i.e., changing what is normally
done) or by physical actions (i.e., reinforcing or relocating structures,
For risks that cannot be sufficiently mitigated,
preparedness measures are developed. These measures limit the loss
of life and property and enhance response. Deciding how first responder
teams will be staged and deployed, developing optimal evacuation
routes, and stockpiling supplies are all preparedness activities.
Again, modeling events in GIS helps with preparation activities.
These activities, immediately after an event, assist
victims, stabilize the situation, and limit secondary damage. The
graphic presentation and data integration provided by GIS let responders
quickly grasp the situation and make more informed decisions. GIS
supported response efforts at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon
by coordinating the search for survivors, keeping rescuers supplied,
and by identifying hazardous areas.
Following a event, returning all systems to normal
or better is typically a two-step process. Short-term recovery restores
vital life-support systems--food and water are available, electrical
service resumes, sanitation needs are met. Infrastructure information
supplied through GIS speeds this process. Rebuilding a community,
the goal of long term recovery, many take months or years. With
GIS, pre-event conditions can be documented so communities and individuals
can more easily qualify for aid or settle insurance claims. Completing
the emergency management cycle, risk assessment and planning analysis
can help ensures the integrity and safety of new construction that
is part of long term recovery.