Interactive Maps Help Communicate the Threat of Tsunamis
The New South Wales State Emergency Service (NSW SES) is responsible for responding to and planning for flood and storm emergencies throughout the state. Part of this work includes educating the public on the threat of tsunamis and coordinating response in the wake of such an event.
To help build preparedness and community resilience, the agency launched TsunamiSafe: a community-based initiative providing NSW SES, other agencies, and citizens with the tools and information they need to make better-informed decisions both prior to and during a tsunami.
Recognizing the unique value that interactive maps have in helping to visualize and communicate the potential impacts of a tsunami, NSW SES used location-based analytics to develop a suite of information products to support the TsunamiSafe initiative.
This led to the development of two location-based solutions:
- An evacuation areas mapping application: A public-facing map that provides the community and other agencies with insight into areas vulnerable to a land-threat tsunami
- The TsunamiSafe story map: A community engagement tool that educates the public on tsunamis and the dangers they pose in NSW
Faced with the community's ambivalence toward the threat of tsunamis on the New South Wales coast, NSW SES leveraged a location-based solution to get the message through.
The response from the public to our story map and evacuation areas map has been encouraging. People are more aware, taking action, taking note of vulnerable areas in their neighborhoods, and [they] now have a better understanding of the risk overall.
Unlike many neighboring countries in Asia or the South Pacific, modern Australia has yet to experience a truly destructive tsunami. However, in the recent past, a number of smaller marine-threat tsunamis have been experienced, which had the potential to put coastal infrastructure, property, sea vessels, and even lives at risk.
As the agency responsible for ensuring that New South Wales residents are educated and prepared for possible tsunamis, NSW SES has an obligation to improve community awareness on the issue. This remains a challenge, though, due to a general lack of understanding relating to tsunami risks.
To cut through this ambivalence, NSW SES required an approach that would collate authoritative tsunami data and present it in an appealing and meaningful format.
More specifically, NSW SES wanted to do the following:
- Create engaging information products that would help educate the community on the risk of tsunamis—both on land and offshore.
- Develop platforms that would disseminate TsunamiSafe information—currently available via a self-service website—in a format that was easy to understand and use.
- Augment and replace hard-copy documents with easily updatable and expandable platforms that could provide current and relevant advice and information.
- Accommodate the inevitable surges in online traffic that occur during emergencies.
- Transform existing data into a clean, simple-to-use community engagement tool that helps identify evacuation areas in the event of a land-threat tsunami.
New South Wales
State Emergency Service
ArcGIS Online ArcGIS Desktop Esri Story Maps
NSW SES is a 9,000-strong volunteer-based emergency and rescue service that provides support to the people of New South Wales 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The majority of situations the agency responds to relate to flooding and storms; however, NSW SES also provides general rescue services in the state's rural areas, including road accident rescue, vertical rescue, and rural area search and rescue.
In addition, the agency assists other New South Wales emergency service organizations during major operations, including the state's police force, rural fire service, and ambulance service.
Geographic information system (GIS) technology is critical to NSW SES operations and is leveraged to generate new applications and capabilities to support mitigation, preparedness, and response and recovery efforts for both everyday incidents and large-scale events.
Using location-based analytics technology as the foundation for its tsunami awareness solutions, NSW SES developed two key map-based information products:
Evacuation areas map
While the likelihood of an NSW coastal land-threat tsunami is low, the potential impact of such an event remains high.
The evacuation areas map collates various data sources to display reliable information on areas likely to be affected and where higher ground can be found—insights that benefit both the community and emergency responders.
Public-facing tsunami story map
The story map combines authoritative maps about the impacts of tsunamis in NSW with narrative text, images, and multimedia content to create an educational tool that enables the public to better prepare.
This medium was chosen as an easy way to harness the power of maps and geography to tell an educational and engaging story down to street level.
A first of its kind for Australia
The evacuation areas map was an Australian first of its kind at a statewide level, with similar maps previously only developed at local levels.
Other states are now in consultation with the agency on how to replicate the innovation.
By simply leveraging a configurable, commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) solution and utilizing readily available data, NSW SES was also able to develop the country's first public-facing story map on tsunami history and risk.
Legacy data given a new lease on life
The public release of legacy tsunami information by the agency was a game changer. With location-based analytics technology, old datasets, surveys, and models—content unsuitable for brochures or leaflets—could finally be made available to the public in a usable format.
Seamless scalability for the entire state
This ensures that the map can cope with very large peak usage and means that—in the face or wake of a disaster—access is guaranteed to anyone who needs the map in an emergency.
Improved community awareness and resilience
NSW SES harnessed the power of maps for community education by creating a range of engaging location-based information products that can be personalized by the user. This has enhanced the community's understanding of tsunami threats and helped improve citizens' preparedness—strengthening public resilience by empowering people to make better-informed decisions themselves.
Added value to existing data sources
Data feeds and legacy data previously obtained through things like inundation modeling were collated to develop maps and apps—enhancing the value of existing NSW SES resources. This increased return on investment (ROI) from its mapping infrastructure by removing the need to upgrade solutions.
More accurate understanding of tsunami risk
Using location-based analytics, the resourcing needed for evacuation has been better identified. This has made planning easier.
Interactions sparked by the evacuation areas map have led to the gathering of important feedback and provided additional data about which areas are vulnerable.
Increased compliance with open data policy
The solutions ensure that NSW SES can meet its regulatory and ethical duty to share information with the public and improve community safety.
Greater decision-making support
Static information and real-time data feeds were transformed into actionable insight to support decision-makers and actions coordinated across departments.
Improved warning systems
These tools enable NSW SES to improve the delivery and format of warnings—and the speed at which they are issued and interpreted by the community.