The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services’ MERGIS program tested the skills of participants from eleven state, local, and private organizations in an intense training endeavor July 13-16, 2003. The Missouri Emergency Response Geographic Information System (MERGIS) is a powerful mapping application for decision support and risk analysis, capable of portraying an emergency event in near real time and powered by ESRI’s mapping software. Representatives of Missouri state and local agencies are currently being trained in MERGIS use, allowing them to harness the capabilities of GIS software. By combining the power of a database with the visualization of a map, GIS provides a potent computer-based tool for mapping and analyzing objects and events.
The drill was designed to test participants’ ability to combine resources, use GIS technology, and react to a large-scale catastrophe. Responding to a simulated earthquake, MERGIS teams were confronted with a variety of fictional situations including a derailed train full of dead and injured cattle, widespread flooding of the Mississippi River, and a dangerous chemical release. In this final instance, teams worked together to establish a link between an increase in respiratory illnesses and the chemical release as well as to discover where the release point was located, the approximate time of release, and the direction of the chemical plume using ESRI’s ArcGIS technology.
All MERGIS field teams used global positioning systems (GPS) to capture coordinates of critical assets that might have been damaged by the quake. Data sets were relayed to a MERGIS mobile unit or directly to the incident command post. By accessing the secure MERGIS Web site, managers were able to view facilities and local geography data. This ability, provided by ESRI’s ArcIMS software, allowed the command center, as well as other emergency responders, to work continually with near real-time data. The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services created the program to bolster the department’s ability to monitor an accidental or intentional release of chemical, biological, or radioactive agents as well as enhance health surveillance and risk analysis.