GIS to Assist with Emergency Response Management

To help respond to a potential community-wide emergency, most local
governments have an emergency response plan in place to assist with the
organization and execution of community policies and protocols. As
technology has improved over the years, the City of Des Plaines started
integrating Geographic Information System (GIS) into a tool for
assisting with the management of an emergency event response.

In recent years, the city dealt with two major flooding events that
required city departments to respond quickly to the needs of its
residents. This included responding during the events by implementing
preventative measures to mitigate property damage, and after the events
to assist with cleanup and damage assessment. Since each event affected
several areas of the city, it was difficult to manage and respond to
each area efficiently and to see the extent of the damage using
traditional methods of data management. By inputting the collected
information into the city’s GIS system, each department was able to see
the event spatially and get a total perspective of how the flooding was
impacting different areas.

The way GIS was used during and after these events varied depending
on the department. Examples of the map products produced include road
closure maps, standing-water location maps, damage-assessment zone maps,
and sandbag placement maps. While each map was designed based on a
specific department request, they were ultimately used to assist
departments with communicating information to each other. Providing the
collected data spatially provided a universal language that allowed all
city employees to understand the specific event being displayed and
where it was impacting the city. However, maps were not the only
products that were produced. Another critical function the GIS system
served was to provide address lists to building inspectors, public works
field crews, and police department officials to convey information
regarding damaged and flooded homes and city properties. Collectively,
these products provided the city with critical resources to help manage
the mitigation and cleanup of each flood event.

In addition, to paper mapping products and address lists, the city
also used GIS to perform “on the spot” data review of contours, city
structures, roads, and other infrastructure features. This was
performed using ESRI’s ArcMap and ArcReader software, which allowed
departments to interactively view and analyze GIS data as needed. Being
able to view this information electronically, and add information to
the system as needed, allowed city users to quickly access vital data
that assisted in activities such as flood stage analysis and sandbag
placement determination.

Including GIS as part of the city’s emergency management strategy has
allowed the city to react quickly to emergency events by improving
inter-department communication and the ability to review the impact of
the event by spatially analyzing the extent of the damage that occurred.
This capability provides the city with a powerful tool for responding
to an emergency in a way that maximizes its ability to help its
residents.