USA—Geographic information system (GIS) technology played a key role in assisting federal, state, and local agencies to prepare for and respond to Hurricane Gustav. Using ArcGIS software and Web GIS services from ESRI, staff were able to more effectively prepare for the hurricane’s impact. Officials viewed spatial and related tabular information to make assessments prior to landfall. As the hurricane swept across Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, and Arkansas, dynamic data updates helped accurately depict events as they unfolded.
“The objective of large-scale, complex emergency management is putting in place preparedness and prevention measures so that you minimize the impact of the event to people, communities, assets, and infrastructure,” says Russ Johnson, public safety manager, ESRI. “For Gustav, GIS helped do that. People were able to understand exactly what was happening and what actions needed to be taken both before and after the hurricane made land. They were able to address and prioritize critical issues to save lives and start the recovery.”
The Power of Hurricane Gustav
Gustav, which made landfall as a category 2 hurricane on Monday, September 1, was less potent than originally predicted but devastating nonetheless. Packed with over 100-mile-an-hour winds, torrential rain, and the threat of tornadoes, Hurricane Gustav resulted in U.S. property damages estimated in the billions of dollars.
GIS helped mobilize responders, equipment, and supplies. It assisted in evacuations that resulted in nearly two million people, including many thousands of elderly and infirm, moving to safety in an organized, efficient manner. Many of the evacuation plans, which included multiple means of transportation, were assessed, implemented, and monitored using GIS. Personnel determined appropriate evacuation shelters and the most expedient routes to the shelters as well as monitored and managed logistics necessary to sustain shelter operations.
In addition, other analyses were performed to understand how critical infrastructures might be impacted by the storm (potential power outages, transportation network impairment, government facility damage, etc.). From these analyses, contingencies were developed for maintaining government operations and business continuity using other resources. GIS analysts fused diverse data types from multiple sources including satellite imagery; GPS coordinates; live weather feeds; and utility grid, parcel, and street information. Maps were developed that displayed damaged buildings and hazardous areas, functioning and downed communication networks, power outages, road closures, and food and safe water sources after the hurricane hit.
These maps aided in identifying recovery priorities and communicating information to other government officials, the public, and the media. News outlets used GIS data and mapping to add data-rich graphics to their stories.
Perhaps most important, GIS specialists and virtual networks of organizations collaborating and sharing resources played a key role in the response. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security added GIS analysts in the national operation center to increase support during the event. The deployment of GIS helped eliminate redundant work and facilitated greater preparedness, collaboration, and communication.
“The ability to pull together a common operating picture across jurisdictions is better today than at any other time,” says Johnson. “I think that people have begun to appreciate the value of the technology and anticipate having it in place and ready to deploy when emergencies occur.”