When Disasters Strike, GIS Can Help Hospitals Care for Staff
Hurricane Joaquin brought record rainfall to much of the Southeast this fall, flooding entire towns throughout South Carolina and closing major highways. As the storm heightened to a state of emergency, challenges for hospitals intensified too—from relying on shuttled water to complying with boil-water advisories and facing evacuations.
When emergencies such as these strike, hospitals’ top priority is to ensure that patients are safe, even if that means staff must work back-to-back 12-hour shifts and stay in the hospital overnight before being reunited with their families. My wife, a pediatric nurse in South Carolina, experienced these challenges firsthand. While trying to focus on caring for her patients, worrisome questions ensued: Is my family in danger? Is there flooding in my neighborhood? Will I be able to travel home safely?
As a geographic information system (GIS) professional at Esri, I was able use the company’s intelligent mapping platform to answer my wife’s questions—all of which had a geographic component. By understanding the where—where the impacted areas were located in relation to the hospital and where my wife needed to go—I helped her avoid major road closures and flooding and get home safely as soon as curfew was lifted.
These same mapping tools can help hospitals facilitate internal communications with employees. With ready-to-use mapping applications, hospitals can put the power of geography in the hands of staff on any device, at any time, to help answer critical questions—and provide peace of mind.
Understanding the Situation
One of the most critical needs for hospital staff trying to navigate home during an emergency is having sound situational awareness. Whether traveling by car, bus, bicycle, or walking—simply using a standard GPS device that shows traffic conditions isn’t going to cut it. Before planning my wife’s route home, she needed data from credible sources to know where evacuations, flooding, road closures, and other events were taking place.
Esri’s ArcGIS platform offers these capabilities. By simply overlaying their home addresses with real-time emergency data that is available with ArcGIS, staff can easily determine whether their families, homes, and routes are impacted (figure 1). Much of the content needed to make these determinations is readily available through the Living Atlas of the World or publicly available datasets. Hospitals can access authoritative data for free through the platform. Sample data includes evacuation routes and flood risk information from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and weather satellite imagery, storm reports, and other weather-related data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Beyond Basic Navigation
After having a firm understanding of the emergency situation, hospital staff can use GIS to map the best route home. With a few clicks of the mouse, employees can easily plot their homes on a map along with the World Traffic Service live feeds and road closures to navigate a safe path home (figure 2).
This is just scratching the surface on how hospitals can use the ArcGIS platform in emergency situations. With a lineup of ready-to-use solution templates, hospitals can also use GIS to prepare for emergencies. Operationalizing these capabilities for routine workflows throughout the hospital would have many other added benefits. Place matters for hospitals, their staff, and their communities.