GIS & Social Media Team Up to Combat Disasters

GIS & Social Media Team Up to Combat Disasters

Two of the world’s top technologies are consistently pairing up in what many believe is the evolution of information. Software companies are integrating GIS technology and social media to map people’s tweets and other social media platforms with geospatial data.

GIS paired with social media has been used to track the Republican presidential primary, the Wall Street protests and every major disaster over the past two years.

During the 2010 Haiti earthquake that registered 7.0 on the Richter scale at least 52 aftershocks measuring 4.5 or greater, an estimated three million people were affected and some 316,000 died. But, without GIS technology, experts believe the disaster could have been worse.

In this Esri conference video about Haiti, Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), says that in big disasters the initial response is generally not the government, it is individuals helping each other, trying to find out what is going on.

In this age of social media, people can share information in real time. To capture this, Esri’s data and services included a 25-meter reference grid of Haiti, an Esri Geo Viewer, and Haiti base map data from the United Nations available at ArcGIS Online. Esri-generated earthquake and recovery maps were available for both the media and public.

“Our job is to help where we can empower our users with better GIS support,” said Russ Johnson, director of public safety solutions for Esri, in a press release. “As soon as we learned of the terrible event in Haiti, we activated our emergency operational procedures to assist emergency services, humanitarian relief, health professionals, NGOs [nongovernmental organizations], and others. These organizations are working extremely hard to make a difference. We’re working to assist their efforts.”

The 2011 earthquake off the Pacific coast of Tōhoku registered a 9.0 on the Richter scale and killed more than 15,000 people. As outlined in this American Sentinel University blog post “GIS Technology Critical to Managing Japan Disaster,” GIS technology helped find victims of the Japan Earthquake.

Google People Finder used GIS to help individuals track down loved ones. The East Honshu Island, Japan, Military Grid Reference System provided a seamless plane coordinate system across jurisdictional boundaries and map scales with GIS technology. ArcGIS was used to facilitate precise position referencing with GPS, produce web-based map portals that enabled enabling a practical system of geoaddresses and a universal map index. Maps were created based on street views and satellite imagery with links to tweets, YouTube videos and Flickr photos from the area.

Hurricane Irene
Hurricane Irene zipped across the Atlantic Ocean and ravaged the East Coast last August. Some 50 people died and more than $10 billion in damages were inflicted. Considering this hurricane hit highly populated areas, the damages and fatalities could have been much worse. As written on, the average citizen had a wealth of accurate (and useful) hurricane information to choose from, including Twitter/Flickr/YouTube overlays on Google Earth.

Popular blogger The GIS Doctor wrote: “Geographers and GIS pros are all over this storm. Unlike the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, which had a ton of reactionary GIS development, hurricanes provide the opportunity to develop datasets, applications, and analysis before the storm arrives. There are a number of great applications and datasets that have been generated in the past four days, with many more to come over the next several days.”

Significant real-time maps included:

After the hurricane, GIS helped insurers accurately pay claims. Esri’s Mark McCoy discussed how ArcGIS is crucial after a disastrous event.

“Understanding the likelihood—or, as they say in the insurance business, the risk—that an event such as a hurricane, flood, or earthquake could occur and damage property or harm people is at the heart of what insurers do,” McCoy said in an interview. “Understanding risk at a given location has two primary benefits. First, insurers can use this information to make certain their customers are as safe as possible (think about trimming brush and trees around houses and other structures in burn areas) and that they carry the appropriate coverages for any catastrophe that might affect that location. Second, insurers can accurately rate the risk to ensure they are collecting appropriate premiums for the losses that are likely to be incurred.”