A new Web site at Cornell University is giving researchers the information they need as well as helping relief workers do their jobs on the devastated island. The creator of the site hopes it will serve as a model for the distribution of information in future disasters.
The site provides a map of the island nation on which users can display separately or together the precise locations of roads, waterways, hospitals, schools, flooded areas, displaced person’s camps, even footpaths and zoom in, sometimes to the block level.
The maps are built from GIS databases supplemented by field observations using GPS instruments. Included are links to photographs and videos of damaged locations, identified by their precise latitude and longitude, plus high-resolution satellite imagery of the damaged areas.
“Lots of people have put up maps on the Internet, but we’re the only ones with data down to this local level,” says Cornell senior research associate Arthur Lembo Jr., who had a preliminary version of the site up and running some four hours after the disaster. “People now can sit in their offices in Ithaca or anywhere in the world and see the kinds of data that researchers in the field are collecting.”
It was possible to get the site up and running so quickly, he says, because scientists at the International Water Resources Institute, coincidentally located in Colombo, Sri Lanka, went out immediately after the wave hit and gathered information, adding it to an already extensive GIS database and making it available on the Internet. They have continued to update the databases since then. Navigation through the site can be difficult for those not familiar with GIS systems, Lembo notes.