Geospatial Technologies for Faster, Streamlined, More Effective Emergency Management | Sakshi Singh, AGI
No matter how frequent or systemic, emergencies always come unannounced. They can also vary tremendously in terms of scope and impact – natural disasters like floods, earthquakes and wildfires, public health crises like epidemics and pandemics, acts of terrorism such as bombings or hostages, and radiation/chemical mishaps that cause widespread damage in a specific area can all be counted as emergencies.
Whether a result of natural or manmade causes, a scenario that classifies as an ‘emergency’ always requires a quick response and rapid decisions in the shortest time possible. It is impossible to rely on the regular routes of authority and communication to operate normally or effectively in an emergency. At the same time, faulty or miscalculated judgements in the heat of the moment can lead to severe, unprecedented losses, even to life and property.
To respond as soon as possible, agencies need systems and solutions that can help maintain situational and operational awareness, swiftly analyse the impact of an incident, assess the damage, deploy resources, and engage the public. The advent and constant development of new technologies are presenting greater opportunities to make emergency management systems more intelligent, streamlined, effective, and fast, including tools for robust decision support, relay and monitoring in one.
Where Geospatial Fits In
If time is the single most critical parameter in emergency management, data is the most important driver. Emergencies are dynamic, which adds to their complexities. In such scenarios, the availability of the right information at the right time is key to making the right decision.
The primary information that all stakeholders, from first responders to the highest authorities need always has a spatial component to it – the extent or area affected, population at risk, availability of resources, evacuation/relief routes, damage assessment, and so on. Timely and accurate spatial data is what ties together in-depth assessment, targeted planning, strategic interventions and effective communications for effective emergency management.
“Emergency incidents or disasters are spatial in nature and mitigating or protecting against them in today’s modern world requires an in-depth understanding of the geographic, environmental, and socioeconomic systems in the area. Geospatial technologies can provide the right data-driven insights for understanding, identifying, and building strategies for resilience and response more effectively,” notes Deepak Awari, Secretary AGI and Director – Strategy & Development, Secon.
This is where Geospatial technologies and tools step in. Through a robust assessment of affected areas, along with real-time monitoring of support levels and supplies, updated databases of populations, businesses, structures, and utilities, location of accessible evacuation routes and collation with emergency response teams using Geospatial technology, governments all over the world can reduce the response time to an emergency considerably, saving more lives in the process.
The Role of Geospatial Technologies in the Emergency Management Cycle
“Geospatial data is implemented in the complete emergency management cycle. It provides the most significant inputs for Mitigation, Preparedness, Response and Recovery,” notes Amit Seymour, Sales Director (International), Satpalda Geospatial Services. While these four key facets may vary slightly from one emergency scenario to another, the tasks they cover can all be improved using geospatial intelligence.
Prevention, Preparedness, and Mitigation
The adverse impacts of emergencies can be altogether prevented, mitigated or at least better prepared against if authorities and communities have access to accurate, real-time data for effective emergency management. Location intelligence provides real-time data analysis and data insights, which allow departments to make better decisions during disasters,” notes Dr V S S Kiran, Co-Founder & CEO of Garudalytics. Through accurate assessment and awareness of the risk environment, considerable losses of life and property can be mitigated.
Geospatial technologies offer useful tools for identifying vulnerable or affected areas, monitoring, and supervising them, and gaining a better knowledge of their physical-socioeconomic characteristics and relationships. Aerial imagery from satellites and drones can be overlaid with digital information to quickly compare hazards and threats, potentially affected areas, and locations that require safety intervention. Such scientific analysis, simulation & modelling mechanisms using Geospatial technologies can help establish robust decision support systems for effective emergency management.
Take for example early warning systems, like the Indian Tsunami Early Warning Centre in Hyderabad, that send precise and prompt notifications to improve planning, timing evacuations, and prevent fatalities. The Kakinada Bay area’s critical land data was derived using ISRO’s IRS-1D, followed by the gathering and integration of in-situ data into a spatial framework for the analysis and classification of zones of varying vulnerabilities. A second example would be the interactive information system developed by the Karnataka State Remote Sensing Applications Centre (KSRSAC) using geospatial technologies, with a real-time fire monitoring component. KSRSAC was able to detect a total of 3,98,774 forest fires over 2 years using the system.
The critical stage in the wake of an emergency and before relief/rescue measures are sent out is that of Response. It is here that decision-makers must accurately and quickly comprehend the extent of the harm to plan the next course of action. Rescue and medical personnel must be dispatched right once to the worst-affected areas and any areas where stranded or injured persons might be found. At the same time, it is imperative to address key infrastructure breakdowns as soon as possible to maintain access to healthcare, food, energy, and water. The value of data and information are most pressing at this stage.
During such circumstances, geospatial technologies prove to be cornerstones of efficient communications and real-time information dissemination. With data from various sources, including aerial, in-situ, secondary, geographic, demographic, climatic, and more, organizations may use GIS to create shareable digital overlays. Such priceless information gathered in the wake of an emergency can assist in identifying the most important issues for developing an effective recovery mechanism, such as accessibility, the level of damage, the number of residents in danger, the current state of utilities nearby, and so forth.
Prakash Narayanan, Vice President-Technical Services, Hexagon India shares, “Situational awareness plays a critical role in helping an emergency response operation. The ability to see what is going on at the site of a major event will give extra power to the decision makers to do the right thing”.
Take for instance the UP Police’s Crime and Criminal Network Tracking System (CCTNS) project that facilitates the mapping of various types of crime data for both citizen and departmental access. The state-of-the-art mobile application enables simplified crime analysis across zones and effective planning of countermeasures. The result is a considerable reduction in response times, as the nearest police officials are automatically detected during an incident.
Following the provision of immediate relief and rescue, it is crucial to move forward with the reconstruction of crucial infrastructure in the short term, followed by gradually returning structures, connectivity, and other necessities of life to normal. “The aim of the recovery phase is to restore the affected area to its previous state. Recovery efforts are concerned with issues and decisions that must be made after immediate needs are addressed,” notes Parikshit Das, Director Sales, Emitech Infosystems.
In this case, LiDAR can be used to gather high-resolution topographic elevation data to look for any geological or structural changes brought on by the disaster or attack. The usage of Digital Elevation Models (DEMs) can help to improve the processes for reconstruction and rehabilitation coordinated with sustainable planning and management initiatives.
With information from all essential aspects consolidated into a single digital interface that is accessible to all stakeholders—governments, on-field teams, and citizens—GIS data may assist outline conventional operational methods. Such platforms allow for the identification and updating of priority activities, which aligns the entire restoration effort for all participants for more structured management and quicker results.
“As an intelligent nervous system with enhanced situational awareness, GIS aids in sensing the health of ecosystems to not only plan and prepare well but also effectively respond, recover, and build resilience and collaboration in case of emergencies. At the national level, it can be described as a ‘System of Systems’ with data flow from districts to states and national emergency management organizations,” notes Former President AGI and Esri India MD Agendra Kumar.
Emergencies are chaotic situations, calling for data and tools that allow effective response without adding to the confusion, better yet clearing it up and providing a definitive course of action. Geospatial technologies have the potential to do exactly that, across the full emergency management lifecycle. From streamlining modelling, mapping, and geographical decision support to combining disparate data from various sizes, accuracies, and formats into a single platform – Geospatial is a powerful tool for analytics, visualization, and communication in each phase of emergency management.