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GIS leads relief efforts in tornado aftermath

Missouri, US: Geospatial technology has found its application in multiple domains all over the world. Now, the technology is also leading relief efforts in disaster-hit areas.
When a powerful tornado tore through the community of Joplin, Missouri, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and partnering agencies took the help of GIS to coordinate the removal of massive amounts of debris and provide relief efforts.
The USACE has been using GIS extensively to coordinate the removal of debris, relying on the technology after Hurricane Katrina, 9/11 at the World Trade Center and several California wildfires.
“The GIS (geographic information system) takes data from various sources, including aerial photographs and electronic data and combines these layers of information in various ways to create maps. These maps can be used to perform many different missions and solve complex problems,” said Stephen McDevitt, GIS, USACE, New York District, who is one of four national action officers responsible for deploying and managing GIS teams throughout disaster regions.
McDevitt deployed Army Corps GIS specialists to Joplin right after the devastation. They were joined by collaborating agencies including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the City of Joplin, and the U.S. National Guard. The team used Esri ArcGIS to create maps of the area.
“From this team of agencies we collected a multitude of information that we layered to create maps, to assist with the many Army Corps missions,” said Stephen Long, GIS specialist, Philadelphia District, USACE.
“We combined pre- and post-disaster aerial photography, parcel and property information from the city and county, sewer and water line information from utility companies, and electrical line data. In addition, Army Corps staff in the field collected data using GPS units, which we added to this mix,” said Long, who has been an active member of the Army Corps GIS team for 10 years.
On a map that resembles a Google Earth image, the team overlaid street information and color-coded property outlines. A red outline meant the property owners had signed a Right-of-Entry form allowing USACE personnel to clear the property, a yellow outline meant a form wasn’t signed yet, an orange outline indicated the cleanup was in progress, and green-outlined properties had already been cleared of debris.
These maps were updated daily and provided to the staff who were maneuvering five hundred debris-removal trucks around Joplin — no easy task since street signs had been blown away and landmarks destroyed. With the GIS maps, field workers knew not only where the streets were, but also which residential and commercial properties needed to be cleared next.
Source: Cadalyst.com