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GIS approach for disaster management through awareness – an overview

Balaji. D
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Sankar. R
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Karthi. S
[email protected]
B.E. Geo-Informatics, Dept. of Civil Engineering
Anna University, Chennai

Disaster management has been the hot topic in recent times. A lot many management techniques have evolved through various discussions. All the management techniques that are being developed are understood by, and confined to the intellectual community and hence lack mass participation. Awareness of the disasters is the only effective way in which one can bring about mass participation. Hence, any disaster management is successful only when the general public has some awareness about the disaster.

In the design of such an awareness program, spatial data becomes imperative and for the analysis of the spatial data and the representation of the results in spatial format, a Geographical Information System (GIS) becomes the obvious and effective choice. The usage of the spatial system provides the advantages of emphasis on the areas or locations which need more attention. This paper aims at providing a methodology of designing a GIS based awareness program for earthquake, flood, landslide, drought, diseases and other natural and man made disaster management. Further, the paper discusses the use of GIS to decide upon the better ways of creating awareness on the various factors mentioned above.

The methodology suggested is in the Indian context emphasises the role of zonation, literacy and media usage. It involves the use of maps showing Earthquake zonation, flood risk area zonation, landslide zonation, drought zonation, disease prone area zonation, land use, literacy rate, population density, media usage, occupation of people and rainfall. These maps which are input to GIS, result in an analytically derived awareness program, which is then compared with a successfully operating awareness program. Such a comparison is also an indicator of the outcome of the awareness program.

In conclusion, the proposed GIS based awareness program would improve the currently practiced disaster management programs and if implemented, would result in a proper dosage of awareness and caution to the general public, which in turn would help the activities of disaster management.

The earth has been an unstable proposition throughout its existence. Man who entered the scene has been exploring during his short existence to unravel the various mysteries which are mysteries till date. These mysteries have been understood by and confined to the intellectual community. But, when the victims of the mysteries are the people then they need to know what the mysteries are and the impact the mysteries can have on them. As the proverb says,

“Knowing your strengths and your foes’ strengths is half the battle won”.

Thus, the need of the hour is awareness about the disasters and the ways of managing them.

This paper discusses how disaster can be managed through awareness and suggests a methodology to design an awareness program with the help of the spatial component. But before discussing this let us discuss what a disaster is? What disaster management is? How disasters can be managed by spreading awareness about disasters? And what is the role of GIS in disaster management?

‘Disasters’ as a term has been interpreted in a lot many ways by various individuals and organizations. The reason for this is the lack of consensus on what a disaster is. But, in recent times due to increase in the amount of research going into disasters and their management and mitigation, almost many of the definitions have more or less been talking about human sensitivity towards natural or man-made or environmental hazards i.e., in other words the definitions have become anthropocentric and have reached a level of standardization. So, in order to understand the term disaster we need to understand the term ‘hazard’ and the human sensitiveness towards a hazard. Now, let us look at them.

Hazard can be defined or viewed as a naturally occurring or human-induced process or event with the potential to create loss, i.e. a general source of danger.

In other words, a hazard is a rare or extreme event in the natural or human-made environment that adversely affects human life, property or activity to the extent of causing a disaster.




So, any natural phenomenon like earthquake or a man-made phenomenon like a radioactive explosion can be a source of hazard, but whether it would culminate into a disaster depends on two factors.

  • Physical Exposure- reflecting the range of potentially damaging events and their statistical variability at a particular location.
  • Human vulnerability- reflecting the breadth of social and economic tolerance to such hazardous event at the same site. The factors which influence vulnerability are
  • Rapid urbanisation and migration: Rapid population growth, migration and poverty are related to the major phenomenon of rapid urbanization. The massive number of urban increasingly find fewer options for availability of safe and desirable places to build their houses. Here again, competition for scarce resources, an inevitable consequence of rapid urbanization, can lead to manmade disasters.
  • Transitions in cultural practices: Transitions in cultural practices brings in insecurity and vulnerability. Also, conflicting cultural practices can lead to civil conflict and strife.
  • Environmental degradation: Many disasters are either caused or exacerbated by environmental degradation. For example, deforestation leads to rapid runoff which contributes to flooding.
  • Lack of awareness and information: Disasters can also occur when people who are vulnerable have not been educated on how to get out of harm’s way or take protective measures at the onset of a disaster.
  • War and civil strife: War and civil strife are regarded as hazards or extreme events that produce disasters. War and civil strife often cause the displacement of the population. The causal factors of war and civil strife include competition for scarce resources, religious or ethnic intolerance, and ideological differences. Many of these are also byproducts of the preceding factors.

Therefore, “It may be concluded that a disaster is a serious disruption of the functioning of a society, causing widespread human, material, or environmental losses, caused by hazards, which exceed the ability of affected society (community) to cope using only its own resources.”

Thus far we have seen what a disaster is. Now let us discuss about disaster management.

Fig.1: The figure shows how resources can culminate into disasters (Smith. K, 1996)

Disaster management
Disaster management is nothing but skillful ways and methods of controlling a disaster. Disaster management techniques or methods are based on the economic status of the country and hence it varies from country to country. Any disaster management technique involves certain amount of investment. Hence the process of managing disasters and thus increasing safety, involves a balancing act that between the cost of reducing the risk of a disaster and the benefits arising from the amount of risk reduced. Thus, developed countries manage disasters better than developing countries.

When we talk of effective disaster management, a sequential series of actions should be implemented. Figure 2 shows the sequential series of actions that should be implemented.

We have seen, what a disaster is and what disaster management is and now we are going to see how disaster can be managed through awareness. Before entering into this, let us see what has been the traditional management technique. The traditional management technique has been based on either physical corrective engineering or the post-event emergency responses. The relief period covers the few ‘golden’ hours or days after the impact. After the initial rescue of survivors, it is concerned with the importation of basic supplies to ensure no further loss of life. The rehabilitation phase involves the following few weeks or months during which the priority is to encourage the area to begin to function again. Finally, reconstruction, often taking many years, occurs.

Fig.2: Disaster Management Cycle (Smith. K, 1996)