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GIS supports disaster relief efforts

Two weeks before Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, Mississippi’s Department of Human Services was wrapping up training classes for an application that promised to detect food stamp fraud. Once the hurricane hit, state officials moved quickly to use the software, which combines business intelligence tools and GIS to help ensure that aid money wasn’t wasted or stolen in the 15 coastal counties targeted for additional food stamp benefits.

Mississippi officials have said that they plan to make the location-based BI application available to all state agencies so it can be adapted for a variety of uses, such as tracking foster children and Medicaid recipients. For the original application, the WebFocus tool is used to generate reports detailing what recipients are buying with food stamps. The GIS maps can pinpoint the locations of 1.2 million daily food stamp transactions and highlight suspicious behavior. The state also hopes to build a GIS map for all state agencies to map the residences of all potential clients. For example, the application would map the locations of the state’s elderly and special needs populations to help in evacuation planning for a future disaster. Mississippi’s state government is but one operation using a combination of BI and GIS tools for hurricane planning and recovery efforts. The American Red Cross used such tools to prepare for Hurricane Wilma, which hit Florida over the weekend. During and after hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the Red Cross relied heavily on location-based BI for purposes such as deciding where to send relief supplies and set up service centers.