How disaster ready are you?01/08/2011
Every few years, hundreds of emergency responders across the United States participate in an emergency drill to assess national and state preparedness for a catastrophic natural or man-made disaster – known as the National Level Exercise (NLE).
The 2011 NLE was based around a mock 7.7 magnitude earthquake striking the New Madrid Seismic Zone, and brought together federal and local government agencies, volunteer organisations and private sector companies from across eight states.
NLE exercises provide emergency responders with a rare opportunity to fully test and stress emergency management tools in a realistic response environment, and during the 2011 simulation Geographic Information System (GIS) technology played a crucial role in coordinating all parties involved.
GIS was used as a platform to connect multiple organisations from widespread locations. More than simply providing a visual representation of data, the platform allowed for real-time data acquisition and timely updates, and offered responders full analysis and information dissemination capabilities.
By fusing base maps and imagery with live data feeds, the platform provided exceptional situational awareness and the ability to visualise exactly what was happening in the impact zone, what was needed and how best to respond.
The technology’s analytical capabilities also made actionable information available for agencies to effectively collaborate.
In the US, major events such as the September 11 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina have demonstrated that capturing and sharing real-time information is essential for effective emergency response and incident management.
Without this info, public safety resources may not be allocated to the highest-priority areas, the dynamics of a developing incident cannot be shared effectively among responders, and a catastrophe will worsen.
In the lead up to the 2011 NLE, Esri technical and public safety solutions staff worked with multiple stakeholders for more than a year to help break down isolated data silos.
During this time, GIS technical assistance was provided to the agencies involved, and responders were shown how to access GIS data services and conduct briefings.
One of the major applications utilised in the simulation was a GIS-based briefing tool which leveraged ArcGIS Explorer Online. It displayed a number of views and provided the status on all emergency support functions (ESF).
ESF briefing maps – used in meetings to discuss what had already taken place, review current status reports and produce future action plans – were also created using GIS to show locations of personnel, assets, supplies and more.
The common operating picture (COP) was populated with information from WebEOC incident and event management software, which assigns and tracks missions and tasks, provides situation reports, manages resources and prepares incident management reports.
The GIS-based COP – powered by Esri software – integrated multiple data and communications feeds, and permitted new information to be sent into the field, providing instructions and greater overall situational awareness to remote operators.
With a capacity to process and analyse large amounts of information, the GIS platform enabled responders to easily navigate through the huge volumes of incoming data – sourced from live feeds, field updates, and geotagged social media posts and images.
It also allowed everyone outside the operations centre to query and access data remotely from computers and mobile devices.
The drill was regarded a success, with agencies able to test and evaluate their processes, equipment and technologies, and share workflows.
Additionally, the results of the exercise helped determine industry best practice, identify opportunities for improvement, and outline potential capabilities for future ArcGIS enhancement and development.