ArcNews Online

Spring 2007
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Online Only Article GIS Continues to Assist Emergency Responders

Recovery Efforts in Post-Tsunami Indonesia


  • GIS still in high demand as redevelopment continues.
  • Coordination between numerous organizations aided with GIS.
  • Online metadata catalog helps data sharing.

December 26, 2004, ushered in the largest natural disaster in recent history. A 9.1 magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami brought incredible devastation to much of Southeast Asia. Countries, including Sri Lanka and Thailand, saw massive human casualties as well as the demolition of houses, roads, hospitals, and even entire villages.

No country was more affected than Indonesia. A wave purported to be 30 meters high hit the province of Nangroe Aceh Darussalem on the northern tip of Sumatra. An assessment after this event in Aceh Province found that 150,000 houses had been damaged or destroyed and 3,000 kilometers of road were deemed impassable. But even this devastation paled in comparison to the direct toll on human lives: 175,000 people killed or missing and 600,000 left homeless.

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The Indonesian government's Spatial Information & Mapping Centre (SIM-Centre) is facilitating data access coordination and creation of a spatial data infrastructure in the province.

For a developing region coping with civil turmoil, even a small emergency would have been difficult to handle. Faced with such an insurmountable event as the tsunami and ensuing 8.6 earthquake a few months later, the world community came to the region's aid seemingly overnight and launched the largest relief effort ever undertaken.

First Response

From the beginning, GIS technology played an important role in mapping the impact to guide emergency responders to affected areas and coordinate the relief effort.

The destruction impacted all levels of service, including water, sewer, and electricity, all of which had to be reestablished in the communities. Even the transportation of the supplies and labor force to affected areas was hampered since the single road along the west coast had been either severely damaged or completely washed away in large sections.

Within days of the devastation, the United Nations (UN) set up a Humanitarian Information Center (HIC) in Sumatra. Based in tents at the heart of the catastrophe, HIC collected data from the Indonesian government, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and international agencies. UN HIC has standardized on Esri software products, so implementing ArcGIS for this emergency response and recovery effort was an easy decision. UN HIC delivered GIS data and maps to the responding humanitarian community, allowing them to deliver assistance more effectively immediately after the emergency.

UN HIC turned to high-resolution satellite imagery to supplement its spotty base data. A complete image of the area was unobtainable due to heavy cloud cover, so older topographic maps were scanned as well.

The organizations used GIS to produce maps for humanitarian works, including maps of injured populations, damage assessments, and displaced persons. Among the most valuable products that UN HIC produced was a map of where each organization was working, so information could be communicated quickly to relief workers scrambling to aid those affected by the devastation.

Meeting Changing Needs

As the relief efforts transitioned into recovery and development, the focus of the UN HIC shifted as well. In September 2005, HIC was renamed the United Nations Information Management System (UNIMS), and its mission changed to reflect the need for better coordination with the Indonesian government, as well as continuing to meet the high demand for GIS during the next rehabilitation and reconstruction phase.

Data collection, collation, and dissemination continued to be provided at no cost to the agencies that needed it. UNIMS provided the ArcGIS software and a staff of 40 to manage the domestic domain.

In February 2006, the GIS software, data, and expertise were successfully transitioned from UNIMS to the Indonesian government. The Indonesian government's Spatial Information & Mapping Centre (SIM-Centre) was established.

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SIM-Centre's online metadata catalog is a free service available to cooperating agencies that provides information and access to necessary datasets.

Partially funded by a grant from the Norwegian government and United Nations, the SIM-Centre is part of a temporary building and reconstruction arm of the Indonesian government in the province. Badan Rehabilitasi dan Rekonstruksi (BRR) NAD-Nias oversees the work of the humanitarian agencies and ensure the needs of the local population are met. It will function until the middle of 2008, when its activities will be absorbed into the standard departments of the Indonesian government.

GIS in Aceh Province Today

This work continues today. Since BRR is itself a temporary agency, SIM-Centre is very active in continuing to educate the government in the possibilities of GIS. To this effect, it is coordinating GIS activities within BRR.

There continues to be a high demand for GIS data and services by the agencies working in the province. Many agencies, such as the German technical cooperation project (GTZ-SLGSR), have their own GIS staff and departments and are supporting establishment of GIS centers in three districts in the province.

To cut down on overlapping services and data duplication, SIM-Centre is facilitating data access coordination and the creation of a spatial data infrastructure in the province.

An online metadata catalog ( exists and is a free service available to all cooperating agencies. Not only does the metadata catalog provide guidance and accessibility to necessary datasets, but it also establishes confidence in the quality of the data, something lacking in the area before the tsunami.

SIM-Centre has also created and continues to support a GIS user group and GIS consortium to advance the use of GIS in the area. A user group meeting is held every six weeks, and all GIS users in Aceh Province are invited to attend. The consortium is a voluntary group of GIS users from more than 20 agencies who discuss the current and future use of GIS in the province.

Currently, the GIS consortium is creating a customized training manual for ArcGIS. The manual is written in Bahasa Indonesian and based on Aceh Province datasets. The consortium held the first training class in July 2006, successfully training government staff from 12 agencies.

To date, SIM-Centre has trained 115 people on the use of GIS. It has filled approximately 700 client requests for GIS data and has printed more than 2,500 maps.

More Information

For more information, contact Richard Kidd, senior GIS and mapping officer, Spatial Information & Mapping Centre (e-mail:

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