A geographic approach to emergency management

​During an emergency event, the type of event, the extent of the area
affected, and the number of issues occurring as a result of the event
are just some of the factors that need to be processed, organized, and
reviewed by local government staff to determine the most appropriate
course of action. Perhaps the greatest challenge of any emergency
response is controlling where information is coming from and which
pieces of information are more critical than others. Using GIS
(Geographic Information System) as a tool in all stages of the emergency
management process brings a spatial component to the planning and
implementation of an action plan, helping to visualize all relevant
information for a more efficient and successful community response.

As with other tools used to assist during an emergency response, a
GIS system will only produce a product as good as the information it’s
provided. Therefore, while visualizing things such as flooded
intersections or downed power line locations is an advantage of using
GIS, keeping the information in the system current is critical to
ensuring that advantage is maintained. Integrating a geographic
component into the overall emergency operations plan for a community can
help to ensure that any status updates to an incident are inputted into
the GIS system and, thereby, reflected in any mapping products that are
produced.

Adding spatial context to an emergency event, and having the ability
to track how the event is changing and affecting the community
residents, is a powerful tool for local government in determining how to
respond. It also provides a means for information provided from the
field to be visually filtered to allow critical information to be easily
processed and prioritized. Having a robust GIS system in place to
assist with the information management of an emergency event improves
the effectiveness of the local government staff and provides a vital
tool for sharing critical information across all departments.