Responding More Effectively to Extreme Weather Events
Across Ireland, the frequency and severity of storms are steadily increasing, creating logistical challenges for the authorities that need to maintain local roads. Cork County Council has used Esri's ArcGIS Online to monitor—in near real time—issues on roads during extreme weather events, improve its emergency response, and support its communication with the public.
- Emergency teams have a clearer understanding of unfolding events during a severe weather emergency.
- The council can look back at previous crises to see patterns and identify areas for improving response time.
- The general public and emergency responders have up-to-date information about potential hazards.
In October 2017, Storm Ophelia propelled hurricane-strength winds across Ireland, taking the lives of three people and causing substantial damage. Unfortunately, extreme weather like this can no longer be regarded as a rare occurrence. According to some estimates, the frequency of storms and severe rainfall events in Ireland during winter and autumn could increase by up to 30 percent.
Recognizing the risk to its local communities, Cork County Council wanted to improve its ability to monitor and communicate the impact of extreme weather events on its road network. The council sought to collate information about roads blocked by flood, fallen trees, and heavy snowfall and provide this information—in near real time, in an easily understood format—to council teams so that they could respond more effectively, learn from past events, and improve communication with the public.
Cork County Council
Improving the council's ability to prepare for and respond to severe weather events and alert the public
Faster and more effective responses during exceptional storms
Improved long-term planning
Better information about hazards for the public and emergency responders
The council was already using Esri's ArcGIS web geographic information system (GIS) technology within its organization and had access to ArcGIS Online. It was also using a geography-based public alert service, MapAlerter, to inform subscribers of severe weather events and scheduled road closures via text messages and posts on the council's Facebook and Twitter accounts. The council decided to leverage its existing investment in both ArcGIS and MapAlerter to create a bespoke solution that assists with emergency management.
Now, when field-based council employees observe an issue on a road during exceptional weather, they report it to MapAlerter via text, using road segment codes and message templates. This information is then not only used to generate MapAlerter posts but also automatically passed to ArcGIS Online, where it is displayed on the interactive Severe Weather Map in near real time. During storms, teams in the council's Emergency Incident Room, the roads department, and other service areas can all view this map to see a clear picture of the extent of road disruption across the county. The map refreshes automatically every minute, highlighting new issues as they are reported.
Cork County Council has two views of this information. The first view, via the ArcGIS Online Severe Weather Map, displays the current situation and can be made available to not only council employees but also the general public and emergency responders via Twitter, Facebook, MapAlerter, and other news channels. The second view is available on a Portal for ArcGIS map for internal use only. All the historical data from past events is displayed on this map and can be viewed using the time slider function so the council's staff can look back in time to identify hot spots where specific issues have occurred repeatedly in sequential extreme weather events.
As a hosted solution, ArcGIS Online offers high availability, even in the worst of storms, which is a significant advantage for Cork County Council. "If our offices in Cork are flooded and our in-house IT systems go down, or if senior managers cannot travel in to work, we can view the ArcGIS Online map from a temporary emergency operations center or from home," says Judith Vonhof, IS project leader at Cork County Council. "In crisis situations, it's reassuring to know that Esri Ireland has the resources to keep our Severe Weather Map available 24/7."
Fast, Effective Responses during Extreme Weather Events
ArcGIS Online provides a single point of reference, allowing all council employees to see—in a clear, visual format—the same accurate, up-to-date view of an emergency situation as incidents unfold. As a result, council managers can quickly make decisions about issues such as how best to allocate resources to clear fallen trees at the earliest opportunity following a storm. Similarly, if managers can see that both major roads to West Cork are flooded, for example, the council's emergency team can direct field workers to the area as a priority to erect signs to warn the public of the potential danger.
Improved Long-Term Emergency Planning
Cork County Council can use the historical maps and time slider functionality of ArcGIS GIS Server to better understand the impacts of past events and use this insight to prioritize road improvements that could help minimize disruption in the future. "You can never know for certain what the next storm will bring," says Tim Lucey, chief executive of Cork County Council. "But this historic information enables us to look back at previous severe weather events and learn from the past."
Better Information for the Public and Emergency Services
During major storms, Cork County Council can now play an important role in keeping members of the public aware of potential hazards and obstructions on the roads. By directing local citizens to the map with all the latest information, the council can help them decide whether to make nonessential journeys and which routes to take. Emergency responders, such as fire and ambulance services, can also refer to the map to see the latest status and make better decisions about the best routes to reach people in dire need.
Summing up, Lucey adds, "With the frequency and severity of storms increasing, councils need to be prepared for dealing with them. This system has certainly assisted with this."
This historic information enables us to look back at previous severe weather events and learn from the past.