Mapping It All Out: FEMA’s GIS Program Has Positive Impact On Moss Point Recovery
Ed. note: This article originally appeared on FEMA's
website on June 23.
When the average person thinks of the Federal Emergency Management
Agency (FEMA) and its role in the recovery of a community after a
disaster, images of the initial response usually come to mind; a man in
a FEMA shirt sitting at a table signing residents up for disaster
assistance, an assembly line of workers unloading bottles of water from
a truck and handing them to waiting disaster victims or, perhaps, a
FEMA official joining local, state and national leaders on a tour of
the disaster area.
The aforementioned imagery provides a relatively narrow perspective of
FEMA's functions and responsibilities. Many of the agency's recovery
operations and programs often go unnoticed by the public.
A great example of the lesser known roles of FEMA's assistance comes
through the GIS program. In simple terms, GIS uses cutting-edge
technology to aid recovering communities by providing the means to
gather, analyze and utilize a broad spectrum of data - from topography
to political and governmental boundaries as well as population and
demographics. The information provided by GIS serves to help
communities in many different aspects of recovery and community
planning in the wake of a disaster.
GIS works with local governmental and non-profit entities as well as
the Governor's Office of Recovery and Renewal at the request of FEMA's
Long Term Community Recovery (LTCR).
"GIS analysis capabilities are a part of the technical assistance
package LTCR provides to local governments, the state and non-profit
community rebuilding partners," said Bob Haywood, Section Chief for
LTCR at FEMA's Mississippi Transitional Recovery Office (MS TRO).
Moss Point is one south Mississippi city taking full advantage of the
GIS program as it recovers from Hurricane Katrina. "We decided to
maximize the opportunities brought on by this devastating event," said
Moss Point Mayor Xavier Bishop. "FEMA has been a partner with us in
taking advantage of this opportunity."
Moss Point faced many challenges prior to Hurricane Katrina. The
closing of local industries cut jobs resulting in population decline, a
smaller work force and, ultimately, a decrease in tax revenue. But as
the flood waters receded after the storm, the city's challenges grew
"Moss Point is an idyllic community that's a wonderful place to live,
work and play," said Bishop. "FEMA's GIS program offers us another tool
to fulfill our dream for a promising future."
Under the leadership of the mayor, Moss Point is facing its challenges
by focusing on new and improved housing and promotion of the business
district through downtown development and the creation of a riverfront
district. The goal is to increase the city's tax base by attracting new
industry, commercial development and, most importantly, a thriving,
The Moss Point Housing Task Force is charged with identifying solutions
to meet the housing needs of the city. The task force has formed a Data
Collection & Assessment Committee to perform a study to determine
housing needs. Dan Allen, GIS Unit Lead at the MS TRO, has been working
with the committee.
"The committee's goal is to increase Moss Point's tax base through
residential developments in run-down areas with derelict housing," said
Allen. "We can help them by providing the technology to develop a
strategy for improving Moss Point's housing which is one of the major
challenges facing the city in the midst of its recovery process."
The transfer of technology may be the single-most important aspect of
GIS involvement in the Moss Point recovery process. FEMA's GIS team in
Mississippi has compiled a massive amount of geographic and statistical
data as they perform their role in the mission of the MS TRO.
All of the technology and data compiled is eventually handed over to
the communities to utilize and implement on their own. By digitizing
many of the older, paper maps used by the city, the benefits of GIS
will continue to be realized long after FEMA has completed its mission
and left Mississippi.
A Housing Geographic Information System currently being created by GIS
is one example. "We are able to incorporate layers for streets,
corporate boundaries, wards, zoning districts, Digital Flood Insurance
Rate Maps, wetland areas and elevation contours," said Allen. "With
this information system, the city of Moss Point will be able to conduct
their own housing assessment."
The housing assessment will identify derelict and abandoned properties
and other impediments and challenges to the improved housing strategy.
Through the development of a map book of Moss Point, GIS is able to
identify undeveloped land owned by the city. The maps also identify
parcels of land with residential developments that have shown a 50
percent or greater decrease in value in recent assessments and
properties that have been abandoned or destroyed. The book will include
a color coding system and corresponding table that identifies and
targets potential properties for the development of affordable housing.
"Once we pass this information on to the city, they will be able to
maintain the system by populating it with new data as it becomes
available," added Allen.
In developing its housing plan, Moss Point will take the GIS map book,
consider input from residents and then overlay the information with
SmartCode. SmartCode is a land development ordinance template for urban
planning aimed at providing smart growth as an alternative to urban
sprawl. It can be calibrated to meet an individual community's specific
In addition to developing housing, Moss Point has an ambitious plan to
promote its business district through the redevelopment of the downtown
Comprised of five key components, the downtown development plan
includes: mixed-used properties, pedestrian friendly aspects including
improved sidewalks, parking, landscaping and a traditional, narrow
"Main Street", an expanded riverfront park to host community events,
measures for minimal environmental impact including Leadership in
Energy and Environmental Design certification for all new municipal
buildings and the use of SmartCode to encourage building designs that
support a safe and attractive public environment.
"Our goal is to make downtown a destination, a place where people
gravitate toward," said Mayor Bishop.
In order to fulfill this goal, the city is using GIS maps as a
template. These maps include information vital to the successful
implementation of the city's development plan. Data such as household
income, age and other demographical factors is being used for current
and future growth.
"The information we are able to glean from these maps is incredibly
helpful," said Daphne Viverette, Moss Point Community Development
Administrator. "Thanks to Dan and the GIS program at FEMA, we'll be
able to utilize these maps long after they (FEMA) are gone."
The use of GIS does not stop with affordable housing and downtown
development, however. "We're planning on using the same principles of
development from downtown to spawn growth and development throughout
the city," said Bishop.
Those plans include the addition of parks, new sidewalks and bike
paths, streetscapes and an increase in security.
GIS is playing a key role in helping Moss Point reach these goals. For
instance, to help determine the appropriate placement of city ball
parks, they are calculating the youth population as it relates to
travel times and distances from the parks. Likewise, they are
calculating the senior population in relation to travel times and
distances to community senior centers.
Housing and zoning, though, remain the two most crucial elements in
which Moss Point is utilizing GIS to successfully execute the overall
"It all comes back to housing and zoning," said Barbara Smith, FEMA
Long Term Community Recovery (LTCR) Manager. "Those are the keys to a
successful overall recovery plan here in Moss Point. And, it wouldn't
be possible without the help of GIS."
No one can predict when the next hurricane will hit Moss Point,
Mississippi. It should be, however, safe to say this community will be
much better prepared both before and after the next storm. "Katrina was
our wake-up call," said Bishop. "And, we are answering."
FEMA coordinates the federal government's role in preparing for,
preventing, mitigating the effects of, responding to, and recovering
from all domestic disasters, whether natural or man-made, including
acts of terror.
Published Tuesday, July 1st, 2008