Mapping in emergencies

In recent years we’ve seen geography underpin the response to a range of different national and regional emergencies ranging from flooding and terrorism to pandemic flu – all of which have endangered parts of our critical infrastructure. Whatever the emergency, given the myriad of differing organisations involved, geography is really the only way of quickly visualising information in a consistent and integrated way.

Through the use of GI based emergency planning tools, Bristol City Council has reduced the amount of time it takes to produce analysis and reports of relevant geographic data from 6 hours to just 20 minutes. This huge improvement supports those involved in the response effort, providing rapid access to data on which to base decisions and will essentially speed up response times and help save lives.

Visualising flooding

Visualising flooding using OS MasterMap

Of course, simply locating an incident and where it might have a potential impact is in itself useful, but not the whole story. During the flooding in Tewksbury, Ordnance Survey data helped pinpoint where flood defence barriers would be most needed, as well as the areas likely to be most in danger of flooding. When roads become impassable, it has also formed the basis for quickly identifying the best route for emergency vehicles.

In another example, our data was used in response to flooding in Caerphilly, in 2008, when two and a half inches of rain fell in a single day. This led to significant widespread flooding affecting people, property and infrastructure. People were evacuated from their homes, and some key travel routes, (including the main railway line) were closed either by flooding or landslides. Several schools were also closed and a residential home evacuated. An initial diversion took 42 miles to navigate – equivalent to the distance from Westminster to Brighton!

Pinpointing critical infrastructure

Pinpointing the impact on critical infrastructure

Using GIS tools, the council’s Emergency Planning Team helped coordinate the response. GI was used to visualise the relationship between reports of flooding and potential high risk locations, such as homes for the elderly, schools and community centres. Geography helped staff to place multiple reports into a single context, identifying patterns whilst ensuring people and assets were moved using the safest possible routes.

Last year’s Exercise Orion was another great example of GI in action.

Anyone out there in local government have a story to share about how you’ve used GI? Would love to hear them so leave a comment if you have.

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2 Responses

  1. Eric Marcus

    I’m from the US, have a degree in Geography and work in IT. Back in the early 1990’s I worked at the local level with a very early GIS called EIS (Emergency Information System). It has been heartening to see the evolution of thought regarding the use of geographic information. What was once specialized is now ubiquitous and doing a good job expanding our perspectives.

    Best regards,

    Eric Marcus

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