GEMA/HS Dispatch March 2018 Edition - Page 16

Mapping a disaster GEMA/HS uses Geographic Information Systems to gather information, inform public By Lisa Rodriguez-Presley M aps have come a long way since the days of hand-drawn images. Today they are used for much more than navigation and the systems using them allow for a more interactive experience. GEMA/HS is utilizing geographic information systems technology to simplify and manage large amounts of information during disasters, producing visual products within maps that keep Georgians informed. GIS technology began in the military, but quickly became an important planning tool in the private sector due to the ability to tr anslate data into a visual format that is easily understandable by the public. GEMA/HS uses GIS technology extensively, especially during natural disasters. “Basically, you can take almost any type of data and turn into a map,” said Robbie Bagby, GIS coordinator for GEMA/HS. “During a disaster, we create many different types of map products that are used to help inform the public. They most commonly cover weather watches and warnings, but we have the capability to use them for much more than that.” GIS data comes from a nearly infinite number of sources, according to Bagby. What makes GIS so critical to the decision making process during disasters is the ability to take those different sources of data, glean information from them and put it into a format 16 that shows relationships, patterns and trends. “We live in a 3D world, so looking at a map really helps people to understand data,” said Bagby. "During a disaster we want to give people information in a way that allows them to make decisions quickly and the visual nature of GIS helps us accomplish that.” During a hurricane for example, Bagby takes operational data, like the areas that are going to be affected by hurricane force winds, flooding, etc., and matches it with statistical data – locations of schools, hospitals, power grids and creates a graphic that can show people how they may be affected. These visual representations are shared, not only with state and local officials, but with the general public as well so everyone has access to the information. “Taxpayer dollars pay for these products, so it only makes sense that they should have access to it,” said Woody Radcliffe, GEMA/HS planning manager. “Information that can help people make decisions about their safety shouldn’t be kept behind a firewall. The more people that can access it, the better off we are.” Radcliffe learned firsthand how GIS can help people make decisions during a trip to his local grocery store. The fire department was at the store and was displaying storm surge inundation maps. Continued on Pg. 18 Citizens uploaded photos of the damage from Hurricane Irma using the Engaged Citizens Damage Assessment Geoform on the GEMA/ HS Maps/Apps and Information portal. The immediacy of the information allowed Georgia to submit supporting information for a federal disaster declaration much faster, assisting Georgians in obtaining aid for recovery. DISPATCH