How geoinformation services can help in natural disasters.

Published on by in Technology

When earthquakes, floods and other disasters hit, GIS can help rescue teams do their work. But aid organizations do not fully share the enthusiasm of the companies developing the systems.

When disaster strikes, the situation is often unclear: What is the extent of the devastation? Were people hurt? Where are they located? Many decisions must be made simultaneously, and every second counts.

Geographic information systems (GIS) assist rescuers in their work. They use a map or an aerial photograph, or a combination of both, as a basis to which additional information is added.

The easiest way to get an overview of the situation is a before-and-after view. It makes damage visible, such as that caused by the tornado in Moore, Oklahoma, in May. The map data includes damage to buildings, roads and bridges, critical infrastructure such as hospitals and shelters, and population structure.

The Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI) is one of the firms behind this technology. It is headquartered in the US with offices in Germany and elsewhere. Mareike Kortmann of ESRI Germany described the possibilities of the technology in terms of the floods that hit Germany in the early summer: "Not only can the emergency services be shown which areas are flooded and how deep, but also how the age structure in specific areas, how many people have restricted mobility and require special assistance in an evacuation." It is also possible to check whether a particular area or a house must be vacated because it contains oil tanks or other hazardous materials.

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