GIS: Wonder Tool for Collaboration and Sustainability: Geographical Information Systems, a Geospatial Technology Tool, Is Fast Becoming a Vehicle for Emergency Management Community Planning, and More

By Esteves, Tammy | The Public Manager, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview
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GIS: Wonder Tool for Collaboration and Sustainability: Geographical Information Systems, a Geospatial Technology Tool, Is Fast Becoming a Vehicle for Emergency Management Community Planning, and More


Esteves, Tammy, The Public Manager


On a recent episode of the hit TV show 24, the lead character and show's hero, Jack Bauer, used geographical information systems (GIS) to thwart a trap designed to kill FBI agents. He took a graphic image of a building and overlaid it with real-time data points of the locations of all the agents in the area and discovered that the agent who was supposed to be in the building as the "lookout" was actually well outside the building. The access to real-time information is a key component of GIS, particularly in the area of emergency management and the need to accurately deploy both human and material resources.

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Our communities have unfortunately been full of incidents in which all involved parties are not included in issues that arise. This becomes ever more apparent in times of crises, such as the terrorist attacks of September 11 and Hurricane Katrina. The Sustainability Leadership Institute defines sustainability leadership as "conscious engagement in individual and collective actions that nurture and sustain the economic, environmental, and social well-being of organizations and communities." Basically, "it means getting into the game, taking responsibility by tackling and understanding complex local and global issues that impact the lives of people today and in the future, and working side-by-side with others who are seeking to make a difference," according to the institute.

GIS is a tool designed to facilitate that process. By using GIS, governments can partner with organizations and agencies to access, share, and analyze information from myriad sources to work together in developing strategies for sustainable development. The Environment al Systems Research Institute (ESRI), a leader in the GIS software market, says this technology will "support decision making and promote better organizational integration and knowledge management to improve the quality of life for future generations."

GIS technology is changing the way organizations do business, and is providing greater opportunities for organizations to collaborate in their missions. While this technology initially found its niche in disaster situations, it is now more greatly appreciated as a multifaceted tool useful in emergency management, community planning, policy study, and much more.

Emergency Management

The field of emergency management involves four phases--mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery. GIS has become a critical tool in all four phases, not only as a way for collecting, organizing, and interpreting data for better decision making, but also as an integrative tool that enables all responsible parties to have better communication and share resources to avoid unnecessary duplication of efforts in allocating resources and deploying personnel.

An ESRI study on disaster responses (2001) provides the following examples of how GIS was used for public safety:

* illustrated the conditions that led to a lethal flood and subsequent mudslide on a California mountain

* showed where to put firefighters and their equipment in the Tualatin Valley

* analyzed vegetation, fuel, weather, assets, and risks in Marin County

* handled real-time disaster management through access to real-time data.

During a recent chemical spill in Virginia, GIS provided real-time information of the incident, informing all involved parties about current wind impacts on the spill, population disbursement in the area, and potential weather conditions. Hurricane preparedness has been enhanced by the development of surge maps, and real-time video cameras help transit authorities determine the need to change traffic patterns, utilize HOV lanes, or deploy emergency vehicles for accidents or disabled vehicles. In addition, during the period of response and recovery, emergency personnel with handheld computer devices can update data systems as they proceed through their communities.

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GIS: Wonder Tool for Collaboration and Sustainability: Geographical Information Systems, a Geospatial Technology Tool, Is Fast Becoming a Vehicle for Emergency Management Community Planning, and More
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