The Role of GIS in Emergency Management: Hawaii's Use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Illustrates the Potential Use This Technology Has for Assisting Other Localities with Emergency Management Response and Recovery Efforts

By Prizzia, Ross | The Public Manager, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview
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The Role of GIS in Emergency Management: Hawaii's Use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Illustrates the Potential Use This Technology Has for Assisting Other Localities with Emergency Management Response and Recovery Efforts


Prizzia, Ross, The Public Manager


The primary government agency for disaster response in the State of Hawaii is the Oahu Civil Defense Agency (OCDA), a department in the City and County of Honolulu. The Mayor acts as the CEO of OCDA and has the power to declare a disaster. Disasters are county specific. Each county--Honolulu, Maui, Kauai, and Hawaii--determines what constitutes a disaster. For example, the island of Hawaii may have volcanic eruptions listed as natural disasters, whereas Honolulu would not. Disasters also can be localized to certain areas within a county and designated to the Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC), which is part of the City and County of Honolulu, as opposed to the State's Emergency Response Commission, which oversees the Hawaii State Civil Defense (HSCD) system.

The state's primary responsibility is to provide leadership in rapid assistance during a disaster, with a full range of resources and effective partnerships. All city departments follow the directives outlined in the City and County of Honolulu's Emergency Operations Plan (EOP). Once the EOP draft for a specific emergency is approved by the mayor and city council, all county departments and coordinating county agencies adopt and follow the plan. Most of Oahu's medical centers play a crucial role in disaster preparedness and response. In particular, Queen's Medical Center (QMC), with its 560 beds, is the largest and oldest hospital and main trauma center in Hawaii. QMC is instrumental in coordinating disaster response, and it plays an active role in Honolulu's Disaster Committee.

Coordination of Public and Private Sector Organizations

The OCDA facilitates public agency coordination through communication, training, procedures, and information within the City and County of Honolulu. In addition, OCDA coordinates disaster responsibilities among various private organizations and educates the public about emergency preparedness. It also has hundreds of volunteers. Interviews with OCDA personnel revealed that they are continuously reviewing, revising, and testing procedures outlined in the EOP. The administrator of OCDA works closely with the mayor and acts as an advisor for disaster preparedness and emergency management.

The Emergency Operations Center (EOC) is designed to facilitate agency coordination emergency response, including establishing operational policy, providing logistical and resource support, and facilitating communications.

Specifically, the EOC houses the communications system for the Emergency Broadcast System and provides a meeting place for the City and County of Honolulu's Disaster Committee. The EOC also houses the geographic information systems (GIS) and radio devices for federal, state, and county agencies, such as the emergency medical services (EMS), hospitals, police, fire, and utility companies.

Former Honolulu Mayor, Jeremy Harris, recognized the importance of Hawaii's reliance on GIS in a keynote speech stating that "Before GIS, we lacked the fundamentals for good decision making and good urban governance. And all that has changed with the invention of GIS. So we have it deployed in an enterprise wide operation of the city. Everything we do in the city takes advantage of GIS. Every decision that we make really affects every other decision ... GIS gives us the opportunity to see our city; to understand it; and to understand how it works" (Frencica).

GIS Application to Natural Hazards in Hawaii

GIS application to such natural hazards in Hawaii as volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, and flooding varies in scope and effectiveness. GIS application to volcanoes has been primarily at Volcano National Park on the island of Hawaii and involves mapping rare and endangered plants and invertebrates in the park. These data are then overlaid with maps of vegetation, lava flows, and climate change to provide information on habitat requirements.

Also, real time fire mapping using the global positioning system (GPS) from within a helicopter is downloaded into ArcView.

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The Role of GIS in Emergency Management: Hawaii's Use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Illustrates the Potential Use This Technology Has for Assisting Other Localities with Emergency Management Response and Recovery Efforts
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