The Application of Geospatial Technology for Effective Disaster Management
The threat to life and property from natural disasters such as floods, cyclones, earthquakes, landslides, forest fires, volcanic eruptions, and so on, have been pertinent since times immemorial. However, rapid technological advancements have exponentially improved our collective ability to respond to these inevitable risks over the past few decades. Spearheading this competence through efficient and holistic disaster management, Geospatial technologies are helping improve planning, response times, collaboration, and communication during the most challenging circumstances through the establishment of a robust data framework.
Globally, the uncertain tilt towards climate change-related risks, paired with the failure of timely response, is accelerating now more than ever before. Disasters are assuming mammoth scales geographically – about 600,000 fires were burning across the Brazilian Amazon in 2020, as tracked by NASA’s Amazon dashboard, triggered by a 23% increase in deforestation over a single year. Targeted geospatial intelligence and high-resolution imagery can provide relevant situational awareness for monitoring events, improving response, and driving resilience.
Key Stages of Efficient Disaster Management
Prevention, Preparedness, Mitigation
Negative human impact on the physical environment through overpopulation, pollution, deforestation and burning of fossil fuels can be reduced to an impressive extent for preventing disasters if authorities and communities have access to accurate, real-time data for effective environmental management. Geospatial technologies provide effective tools for monitoring and supervision of the environment, along with an improved understanding of physical features and relationships. Aerial imagery from satellites and drones can be overlaid with digital information to provide a quick comparative analysis of hazards, the areas they might affect, and the areas that must be intervened for safety.
Scientific hazard analysis through simulation & modelling of highly prone areas through Geospatial technologies can help establish robust decision support systems. While attempting to prevent certain natural disasters is impossible, no matter what their magnitude and scale, targeted spatial data can assist in determining the potential destruction of cyclones and storms as they move through the ocean onto land. Early warning systems, such as the Indian Tsunami Early Warning Centre, Hyderabad, can deliver accurate and timely alerts for better preparations, well-timed evacuations, and thus no loss to life.
In the wake of the Earth Summit 2002, the development of Environmental Sensitivity Indices was a huge step, and Geospatial technologies such as satellite imagery, remote sensing, and Geographical Information Systems (GIS) have an important role to play in the preparation of these indices. For instance, ISRO’s IRS-1D was used for deriving key land data of the Kakinada Bay area, followed by in-situ data collection, all of which were integrated into a spatial framework in a GIS environment for analysis and categorization of zones of various vulnerabilities. Flood-prone areas can be mapped for flood hazard and risk mapping for land use planning, vegetation indices can be compared and analyzed with remote sensing data to prepare forest fire risk zone mapping, and so on. Through accurate assessment and awareness around the evolving risk environment through geo-information, considerable losses of life and property can be mitigated.
The stage immediately after a disaster and before relief measures are sent out is that of Response, where decision-makers must first absorb the scope of the damage. The most affected locations and areas where people may be trapped or injured require immediate attention in the form of rescue and medical teams. At the same time, disruptions to critical infrastructure essential for the operation of healthcare, food, electricity, and water supply services must be taken care of at the earliest.
Geospatial technologies prove to be pillars of effective communications and real-time information disbursement during such crises. GIS can be used to produce sharable digital overlays with information from multiple sources – aerial, in-situ, secondary, or geographic, demographic, climatic, and so on. Such invaluable data captured in the aftermath of a disaster can help determine the most pressing questions for designing an efficient recovery mechanism, such as accessibility, the extent of damage, number of inhabitants under risk, real-time situation of utilities in the area, and so on.
Recovery, Reconstruction, Rehabilitation
After the initial relief has been provided, the next important step is to rebuild critical infrastructure in the short term besides restoring structures, connectivity, and other utilities for individual livelihood to normal conditions. Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) can be applied in this situation for collecting high-resolution topographic elevation data to detect any geological changes resulting from the disaster. Digital Elevation Models (DEMs) can be used to strengthen the reconstruction and rehabilitation processes aligned to sustainable planning and management efforts.
GIS data can help outline standard operational procedures with information from every relevant aspect coalesced into a single digital interface accessible to all stakeholders – governments, on-field teams, citizens. Priority tasks can be identified and updated on the platform, thus aligning the entire restoration effort for all participants for more organized management and speedy outcomes.
The Way Forward: Targeted Disaster Management Using Geospatial Solutions
Several AGI members are already spearheading robust disaster planning and management across nations with the help of their advanced technologies and solutions.
Planet’s new Emergency and Disaster Management Solution is set to help frontline organizations harness the power of satellite imagery to accelerate and improve every aspect of their operations, from pre-positioning of assets to monitoring long-term rebuilding. On the other hand, Maxar’s Open Data Program provides the most accurate, critical and actionable data and analytics in times of disaster to assist response efforts. Esri’s Disaster Response Program (DRP) assists organizations responding to disasters or crises worldwide data, software, configurable applications, and technical support for emergency GIS operations.
Time is one of the most important parameters when it comes to disaster response and management. 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 a disaster considerably, saving more lives in the process.