GIS helps in rebuilding Christchurch after deadly quake strike

GIS helps in rebuilding Christchurch after deadly quake strike

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Earthquake damage: buildings in Christchurch, 19 miles from the epi-centre, demonstrate the power of the tremors. Courtesy: David Alexander/AP

A Geographic Information System (GIS) is one of the real heroes in the reconstruction of roads and utility infrastructure in the earthquake-torn city of Christchurch, New Zealand. The Christchurch earthquake response has required a great deal of information detailing the spatial position and physical attributes of infrastructure to be collated and disseminated to those assessing the state of assets and planning, designing and constructing horizontal infrastructure repairs and rebuild. 

Sinclair Knight Merz (SKM) has been working with the Stronger Christchurch Infrastructure Rebuild Team (SCIRT) to build an integrated system from the ground up, utilising resources from a large number of stakeholders.

GIS shows the way
SCIRT GIS System - Image Credits: EsriIn the initial days after the September 2010 earthquake, a conceptual architecture of a GIS system was developed by SKM that supported the information and data management needs of the recovery.

Over the following 12-months of the recovery works, managed at that time by the Infrastructure Recovery Management Team (IRMO) as a Design/Build response, SKM developed the GIS system to support the recovery work of its client, the Fletchers/ McConnell Dowell Joint Venture.

By the time the Stronger Christchurch Infrastructure Rebuild Team (SCIRT) came into being in late 2011, SKM”s GIS system was in use by all of the four reconstruction contracting teams and their designers, and it was adopted by SCIRT as the platform and basis of the current GIS system.

The SCIRT GIS viewer was developed to provide a single source of city wide information in one accessible, current and user-friendly internet portal and now has nearly 1,100 users from more than 20 organisations.

A user is able to see on screen the same information a series of maps would provide, with interactive layers (nearly 600) showing the location of underground infrastructure, planning zones, archaeological risk areas, project locations and status, cadastral boundaries, title information, picture referencing, pre and post-earthquake imagery among an extensive list of information of interest or relevance to the recovery.

The project team has been able to communicate vast amounts of detailed, targeted spatial information to hundreds of people consistently and continuously, and rapidly integrating this data with non-spatial information where required.

This has been achieved whether it has been processed and transformed from its source and stored in the SCIRT GIS system, or accessed live across the Internet from other organisations.

An initial key element of the success of the GIS viewer was its simplicity of use and the functionality supplied to users, which has resulted in the viewer uptake by SCIRT members increasing steadily and continually over time. The functionality of the viewer continues to grow with technology advances and user requests to a point where many of the organisations contributing information are using it to assist their own operations.

Repairing the damaged horizontal infrastructure of Christchurch is a huge and complex engineering task, and the SCIRT GIS system contributed by providing detailed information and support vital to the repair strategy.

Staff from Sinclair Knight Merz lent a helping hand. Courtesy: HFH Christchurch
Staff from Sinclair Knight Merz lent a helping hand. Courtesy: HFH Christchurch

The GIS system integrates with other disciplines within SCIRT, providing solutions across all departments: Communications, Assessment, Design, Transport, Delivery, Commercial, and Management.

The position of the GIS team within SCIRT – at the receiving end of data-streams from many other disciplines and departments – has enabled the creation of integrated solutions linking these datasets and enabling spatial queries and analysis of novel information.

The SCIRT GIS system sources different types of spatial and non-spatial information from varying organisations including, but not restricted to, central government, local government, utility, maintenance and survey companies, uploading into a single database format and projection.

The objective is to provide appropriate up-to-date information so it can prompt the best decisions on the rebuild.

This data is transformed and integrated into new data and information meeting specific requirements for the benefit of the rebuild effort, which is then displayed via the SCIRT GIS viewer and passed on to other data systems within SCIRT such as 12d, CAD design and Infonet.

The challenge was in combining large datasets from over 20 organisations supplying different file formats, coordinating systems and each organisation”s internal logic, into a uniform, relevant and understandable future-proof view for all of the SCIRT GIS viewer users.

In addition, the base GIS database structure has been established in a flexible manner, providing SCIRT with scalability so it can enlarge the datasets as more information comes into the system, while keeping rigid about the completion of metadata and internal formats to ensure data integrity within the system.

Two key engineering tools within the SCIRT Project have been developed, with engineers, into GIS analysis processes in order to increase integration with the GIS datasets and enable automation and frequent re-runs of the processes.

These are the Project Scheduling Multi-Criteria Analysis (MCA) tool which has been used for prioritisation and scheduling of projects; and the Pipe Damage Assessment tool, which is used to help target the deployment of Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV) crews for physical damage assessment.

Another key achievement was its input into a whole of program re-estimate, which relied heavily on summarising all utility network damage, constructed data and zone information.

SCIRT has been given a unique responsibility for the underground asset data integrity of a large part of the city, working closely in a trusted role with the Christchurch City Council (CCC) to ensure asset management data meets current specifications and is fit and future proof for changes and growth.

Over the course of the project, the SCIRT GIS team will process and deliver an unprecedented length of wastewater, stormwater and water supply ”as-built” data and roading GIS information meeting stringent specifications, and passing back into CCC for final acceptance quality checks.

Most GIS teams maintain the data they supply within their organisation and therefore change can be controlled and adjusted at a pace that suits that team.

As a result, most GIS systems are not designed for constant changes to data schema and updates and manual processes suffice.

A major difference in the SCIRT GIS system is the large amount of data schema changes and updates that occur due to the amount of new information appearing and the changing needs of the organisations.

Automation of processes such as these is paramount to the successful operation of the system.

While GIS is certainly not a new technology, its use in Christchurch at SCIRT expands the scale of what has been undertaken in other organisations and other engineering projects in New Zealand.