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Mobile is today one of the most critical component of any disaster management operation. Speed, accuracy and efficiency are cornerstones of successful disaster management, and today’s mobile devices, in combination with GIS based mobile apps, have become essential.

The Importance of Mobile GIS for Disaster Management

GIS is fundamentally a mapping and locational analysis software. A GIS serves as a central storage point for all disaster related (authoritative) data. It acts as the common operating platform, providing focused mobile maps and tools designed for disaster management. ArcGIS from Esri is one of the more popular GIS platforms. With a common operating platform, organizations can start to engage users in a meaningful and mission-specific way. That means providing new tools and data to office based and field based staff. And sharing critical, potentially life saving data with the general public.

Mobile Apps for Disaster Management

There are 3 key areas in which disaster management field crews work:

1. Command and control (incident management).
2. Response (search and rescue; situational awareness).
3. Recovery (damage assessment; debris removal).

Mobile apps for disaster management provide a set of focused maps, tools and data. Critical functionality required by mobile users engaged in disaster management include:

– Interactive maps which include both switchable basemaps and relevant layers
– Finding an address on the map or geocoding (convert a physical address to point on map)
– Navigating
– Data collection
– Other – draw, measure, reporting tools.

Offline and Mobile Disaster Management

A key element of any mobile app used for disaster management is offline capabilities. Any mobile GIS app which does not work offline is of little use in a disaster situation. Given the often widespread destruction associated with disasters, mobile apps need to be able to function with or without wireless connectivity.

Esri and partners such as WebMapSolutions provide a range of offline enabled mobile apps for disaster management, these include:.

Universal Map Viewer for ArcGIS – A widget based mobile app which is offline enabled providing an array of configurable tools.
Collector for ArcGIS – online/offline data collection.
Navigator for ArcGIS – online/offline routing.

Setting up and publishing appropriate map layers for use in mobile apps is now easy using products like ArcGIS Online. Combining public and organizational data in a single web map, and sharing this data with field crews can now be done very quickly.

Mobile Disaster Management Case Study

We were approached by a mid western US county who needed to improve their disaster management systems. Floods and tornadoes were common problems in the county and disaster assessment was stretching resources and proving very slow and inefficient. Damage assessment measures and quantifies a disaster’s impact on the community.The workflow was described as follows:

“When a tornado hits we mobilize both staff and volunteers. Each is given a paper map and area to visit. Armed with pen and paper the teams go out and collect data on property destruction. There are 3 levels we asses: slight, significant and compete destruction. Once collected the data is manually collated and added to a spreadsheet. The final output from all this work is a concise report written according to the state’s guidelines. This report is provided to state officials for review and guides the final decision on disaster declaration.”

The county wanted to automate this process and put in place a common operating platform. At the core of their requirements were:

“We need a central authoritative data source. Our field staff need a simple, easy to use mobile data collection app which allows them to view maps online or offline, and collect property damage data including photos. Ideally the app should allow all collected data to be automatically uploaded to a GIS. From here reports and maps can be generated. Ideally we would like over time to add other applications and tools (operations dashboards, Emergency Assistance, response planning tools etc).”

WebMapSolutions set the county up with ArcGIS Online. We helped prepare data, published maps, provided configurable/custom apps for disaster management and assessment, and training. The counties response to disasters has been transformed.

What3Words and Disaster Management

Finding an address or location can be a major problem, particularly in third world countries. Different addressing systems, and lack of addresses can make disaster management a huge challenge. What3Words, a UK based company, have developed a universal addressing system. WebMapSolutions have been working with What3Words to produce a mobile app which integrates their technology with ArcGIS. This is an ongoing effort. It is potentially a critical new way to discover and record addresses for disaster management.

Mobile GIS apps are proving ever more essential for disaster management. Leveraging new common operating platforms like ArcGIS, these systems are improving the speed of disaster response, accuracy of data, and efficiency of reporting. Ultimately these new apps are helping to save lives.

Contact us for more information on 801-733-0723.


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