Special Issue: New Directions in Hazards and Disaster Research

Article excerpt

In 1997, Cartography and Geographic Information Systems published a special issue on "GIS and Environmental Risk Assessment" which primarily focused on topics related to environmental health. Since that time, interest in mapping hazards has expanded both conceptually and methodologically. Events such as the 2004 tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, the Sichuan earthquake, and the Southern California wildfires demonstrate the need for continued investigation of hazards and disasters, especially studies that help us understand the multivariate spatial relationships that exist in these post-disaster environments. How can cartography, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), geotechnologies, and spatial analysis contribute to the generation of this knowledge? This special issue of CaGIS provides several examples of how geographers and other spatial scientists are approaching these challenges. In particular, authors were asked to focus on gaps in research regarding the temporal and spatial scales at which hazards and disasters are studied, and the issue of communicating knowledge of these events through spatial data.

Hazards and disasters are commonly studied at city or county scales, but processes related to preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation occur at a finer-scale geography, such as the neighborhood or sub-neighborhood levels. Many of the papers address data collection and analytical approaches at these finer scales, including both the limitations and benefits of this move toward micro-geographies. In addition, most existing studies of extreme events have a limited time frame for monitoring long-term recovery (often only one to two years) even though current research suggests that the effects of exposure are spread over a longer time frame. In response to this phenomenon, articles were requested which address mapping and strategies for collecting temporally dynamic spatial data and which focus on the display of space-time changes in the post-disaster environment. In addition to the spatial and temporal scale, papers were also requested which address approaches for the collection and display of disaster-related ephemeral and dynamic data, as well as mechanisms for disseminating the resulting spatial data to policy-makers and to the public.

This subject matter is covered by nine manuscripts: six are included in the January issue of CaGIS and three more will be published in the subsequent April issue. The first group of papers (January) focuses primarily on geospatial techniques and technologies and their application in the study of human / social issues of hazards and disasters. The second group (April) has a distinctly physical focus.

Hodgson and his colleagues begin the January issue by addressing the potential for using high spatial resolution satellite remote sensing to support post-disaster response. Though they focus on hurricanes, their findings extend to any disaster scenario. Their paper contributes an improved guide for emergency management personnel in assessing availability of remote sensing resources for response. The four articles that follow then present social- and economic-disaster-related data collection and analysis at a variety of scales. Moffatt and Cova use parcel-level data for an improved earthquake loss estimation analysis with HAZUS-MH (the Federal Emergency Management Agency's loss estimation software). This manuscript follows a common theme of papers in this special issue which directly addresses the need for finer-scale data collection and analysis for improved planning, response, recovery, and mitigation activities. Rinner and his colleagues address the need for finer scale spatial resolution in response and mitigation activities as well, but from the perspective of health vulnerability assessment for extreme heat events in Toronto. Their paper segues into the next contribution by Curtis, Duval-Diop, and Wyre. Though their topic is post-Katrina recovery in New Orleans, the implications of their research also point to issues of fine-scale health vulnerability. …