Disaster Response Liaison for Onsite Geographic Information Systems and Remote Sensing Data

By George Davis

With the need for accurate current and historic data on the site of a disaster response effort a liaison between the first responders onsite and a remote command center/mapping center is essential for the flow of data to meet the needs of the incident commanders and their crews.

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Remote Sensing Data (Satellite, Aerial, Thermal, Orthorectified, Multi-Spectral) can provide the onsite and remote responders with a highly accurate and timely means for creating, publishing and distributing geo-spatial information and imagery for use on the scene of a disaster response and the recovery and rebuilding efforts that follow.

The use of many disparate file formats and image types used in the fields of Engineering (Civil, Structural, Chemical, Water Resources, Environmental), Architecture (Site Plans, Floor Plans, Building Outlines, 3D Models and Renderings) and Construction (surveys, as built drawings etc,) can be on paper, computer aided design formats, specification databases etc.

As well as Geo-Spatial Data (Paper Maps, Digital Maps (SHP, DWG, DGN, etc.) Map Services and associated databases) and Imagery formats (Tiff, GIF, JPG, SID, ECW) many if not all will come into play at the site of most disaster response efforts.

The Job of disseminating these various forms of data into an easy to understand map of the scene is essential in the early stages of response.

Having a catalog of data sets available onsite in any disaster response in a standardized format is a good way to relate to the responders the capabilities that are at their disposal even if they are not familiar with the latest technology.

Data produced with the understanding that the data has to be shown in an easy to understand format that maybe only as high tech as a piece of paper but made possible only with LIDAR, Thermal Imaging, Multi-Spectral Satellite Imaging and computer database analysis to get the correct information on the page.

With the response will come more data and with the data will come the job of integrating it into an intelligent map and dataset of the scene.

Having a catalog of various agencies data and it's format known ahead of time and readily at hand before having to respond to a disaster could prevent a disaster in itself by having a robust set of data at the hands of the responders on their way to the site.As the site conditions become known and customized datasets have to be created having a set of workable base-map and remote sensed (Aerial/satellite Orthophoto) data can make the job of geo-referencing incoming data a much less daunting task.

Having a database set up to log map requests and remote sensed data acquisition is also a necessity on site so that data can be delivered to the proper end-user and a record of requests can be logged to see what data was most in demand.

Data sets that can be produced can run the gamut from site assessment, crew embarkation sites, staging areas, security zones, evacuation routes, road closings, bridge and tunnel closings, airports and rail access, bus routes, hospitals, command posts, points of distribution, military bases, Red Cross Shelters, open space, damage assessment, utility outages, street maps with aerial photos, hot spot detection (thermal), vegetation types (Multi-Spectral), weather maps and many more.

With the use of Mobile GIS data collection tools a near real time map can be created at the site of the response.The use of wireless PDA (personal digital assistant) or hand held/laptop computers can bring the power of data acquisition and collection into the hands of response teams.

Global Positioning Systems (GPS) combined with these devices can provide the command post with the accurate positional data needed to assess the scope of the scene in a timely fashion.With the use of a wireless network the data can be uploaded to the onsite command post and then relayed to remote locations for processing and map creation and database population and can be broadcast back to the units onsite to provide the most current data of the scene.

Having a liaison to provide the technology to the responders in a disaster is an important part of the response, if the interface between the crews in the field and the Data-center is to provide a clear picture of the unfolding events it is essential to have a well stocked GIS & remote sensing capability that can serve tremendous amounts of data in the shortest time possible and a person or staff that can serve the technology out to the commanders and responders at the incident scene.


  • Database creation for onsite assessment and map & dataset requests
  • Populate as much data as possible to draw from (Agencies involved, Data sets, Data types, availability, Internet capabilities)
  • Create common field names for GIS and External Database Data to make integration of data less of an issue.
  • Personnel database (who are you expecting to interface with and how do you reach them)
  • Data entry should be kept to a minimum picking items from preset menus will allow for less human error.
  • Internet Map Servers
  • GPS and Field Data collection
1. Map Request Database
  • Make standard map types and have them available for display on site and at command center
  • Ease customization of maps by combining standard map types
  • Have reprographic services available for large map set requests
  • ·Have persons logging in requests that have knowledge of the technology available to the end-users.
  • Make database networked so that a map technician can pick up a request and post it's status so a running inventory of work in progress can be visualized.
  • Fill the database with as much pre-entered data as possible so less time is spent filling in forms.
2. Internet Mapping and Database Capabilities
  • By using Internet map servers many preset datasets can be easily included into GIS software and on line datasets can be published.
  • Updating of a map-service keeps all clients synchronized and standardized
  • Map services can be broadcast to wireless computers and PDA's
  • Aerial photo and Image servers can be integrated with Internet map services.
  • GPS data collected can be easily published over internet map servers
  • By having authoring capability only done by authorized personnel only there is less chance of errors being published.
  • Internet map services can be used with little user training.
3. Global Positioning System and field data collection
  • GPS can be used in at the scene to give positional information for locations being set up on site (command posts, station sites, relief agency locations, equipment locations)
  • A standard unit for use on site could be specified
  • A standard software (Arc Pad) could be specified
  • A standard set of markers/symbols to be used by field crews to identify various locations and their use.

Published Wednesday, September 11th, 2002

Written by George Davis

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