Hurricanes, wildfires, terrorist attacks, and global pandemics are the types of crises that can cause disruption and chaos on a vast scale — impacting communities, damaging the environment and complicating relief efforts.
This has been brought into sharp focus by COVID-19. Its rapid spread across the globe is unprecedented, putting huge pressure on those responsible for leading disaster management – the term used to describe the range of activities prior to, during and after a disaster. The aim of disaster management is to maintain control over critical incidents and to provide a response framework to minimize their impact.
GIS & Disaster Management
One of the most important assets required during any crisis situation is reliable, up-to-date information. Over the past few weeks, Geographic Information System (GIS) technology has played a vital role in providing vast quantities of real-time spatial data, enabling governments and leading authorities such as the World Health Organization (WHO) to track its spread with speed and accuracy. This is having a significant impact on the response effort.
JHU COVID-19 Dashboard
Soon after the crisis emerged, researchers from Johns Hopkins University (JHU), Maryland, US, created an online dashboard to track the spread of the virus across the globe (updated in near real-time). This interactive dashboard (based on ESRI’s Operations Dashboard for ArcGIS) has now been viewed by millions of people, raising awareness of the threat posed by COVID-19.
GIS Helping Local Communities
Perhaps the most powerful application of GIS, however, is at a local level. It is increasingly being leveraged by bodies such as municipalities and health authorities to understand the impact of the virus on their communities, helping answer questions such as:
- Which neighborhoods might be affected next?
- Are essential services such as testing clinics located in the right areas?
- Are any key workers, schools or care homes located in high-risk areas?
- Where are vital supplies such as medicines or food most needed?
- Which hospitals are likely to suffer from capacity issues?
GIS can seamlessly integrate virtually any data which has a spatial component in it to enable predictive analysis, planning and timely actions. By answering key questions, it can provide governing bodies with the information they need to understand where and when to place vital resources. This will help reduce some of the disruption and, ultimately, save lives.
The global battle to contain the spread of COVID-19 is expected to last for many months, at best. GIS can be a valuable tool for helping local communities to take informed decisions which will help them respond proactively in the most effective way possible.
Written by Mohammad Hammoud