GIS Technology Critical to Managing Japan Disaster

GIS technology is helping the world understand and react to the Japan earthquake and tsunami events in real time.

“GIS is helping the Japanese recover in a number of key ways; first and foremost the technology is enabling them to map out the vitally important logistics of moving people and resources to and from Japan,” says Gabriel Schmidbauer, GIS professor at American Sentinel University.

Google People Finder uses GIS to help individuals track down loved ones. The East Honshu Island, Japan, Military Grid Reference System provides a seamless plane coordinate system across jurisdictional boundaries and map scales with GIS technology. ArcGIS uses GIS to facilitate precise position referencing with GPS, web map portals and hardcopy maps, while enabling a practical system of geoaddresses and a universal map index.

Without GIS technology, these tools could not supply critical information to Japanese civilians, military and the rest of the world.

GIS modeling and mapping software provider, Esri, has developed a social media map to track updates related to recent events. The application pulls the social media and creates a specialized map to track incidents.  It can be shared via Flickr, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.

Esri also has a trend analysis map to visualize community reports. The Ushahidi social network allows people to report incidents via SMS, email or Web. This map’s filters include property damage, hazards, evacuations, power outages and help/services.

These GIS advances have been so instrumental to the relief efforts that CNN’s Josh Levs discussed the vast importance of mapping the devastation across Japan. In fact, almost all major media outlets have published a map created with GIS technology.

Tracking the Earth’s Shift

Using GIS technology, scientists determined the earth’s axis shifted about 6.5 inches and the earth’s day shortened by 1.8 microseconds, says Dr. Danette Lance, dean, business and information technology for American Sentinel University. They [scientists] compared map images before the earthquake to map images after the huge shake to determine the earth’s shift, she says.

“Now with the associated problems with the nuclear reactors, they can use geothermal imaging to trace the fallout,” Lance says.

Emergency Response

After the 7.0 Haiti earthquake in 2010, U.S. government officials said the initial response to a disaster is generally not the government and that GIS technology was paramount for communicating in a disaster.

“FEMA and emergency response teams rely on GIS information to get food and supplies into devastated areas,” Lance says.

She says GIS professionals will be in great demand because of natural disaster threats. In its online GIS degree program, American Sentinel University teaches most of the software being used to help Japan, she says. And the students who get today’s online GIS degree will be the ones developing maps and tracking Japan’s rebuilding efforts.

“As the years go, the human-based GIS component will be used to track what happens to these people and the nuclear fallout,” Lance says. “Are we going to see something that’s similar to what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki?  Is it going to be better?  Is it going to be worse?  How are they going to compare it to the information coming from Chernobyl and Three Mile Island? So, today’s GIS technology is contributing to how we’re going to handle nuclear disasters in the future.”

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