The New York City Office of Emergency Management (OEM) relies on accurate geographic information for virtually all of its emergency response and planning operations. Through its Geographic Information Systems (GIS) division, OEM can easily map and access data — from flood zones and local infrastructure to population density and road closures — before, during, and after an emergency.
WHAT IS GIS?
GIS can combine many layers of different information, creating products that are much more sophisticated than flat maps. By linking maps to databases, GIS enables users to visualize, manipulate, analyze, and display spatial data. For decision-makers, GIS can be valuable in helping determine the best location for a new facility, analyzing structural or environmental damage, viewing similar events in a neighborhood to detect a pattern, and so on.
HOW DOES GIS HELP THE CITY?
During emergencies, GIS enables emergency managers to quickly access relevant data about an affected area. For example, on February 21, 2003, a gasoline barge exploded in an accident at Port Mobil on the western shore of Staten Island.
OEM requested the services of the National Atmospheric Release Advisory Center (NARAC), a federal laboratory in California. Using data provided by OEM, NARAC was able to predict the size and direction of the plume which would be generated. OEM combined this plume with its underlying GIS data sets, as seen in this map of southern Brooklyn (in PDF), in order to plan area evacuations or shelter-in-place recommendations. In this particular case, the plume was too high to present a threat to the areas below it.
GIS is also a valuable planning tool. For example, this map (in PDF), created by OEM's GIS division, shows the distribution of the top 10 languages spoken in Brooklyn, as well as areas where a significant percentage of the population does not speak any English. This information is important in planning public awareness campaigns for emergency management. It also suggests areas where translators and interpreters will be needed if emergency shelters or disaster assistance centers are set up in the event of a disaster affecting these areas.
After an emergency, GIS can help recovery workers make decisions about the priority order for demolition, plan reconstruction of an area, and determine which property owners qualify for grants or loan programs, among other recovery-related issues.
Learn More About GIS in Emergency Management:
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