Disaster Planning, Management and Recovery with GIS Data

We all hope never to need emergency or disaster responses. If we do, GIS data will help in ways most of us never know.

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are an integral part of emergency and disaster operations at many different levels. Emergency response speed is increased by accurate, detailed information specific to the location requiring aid. Disaster recovery benefits as damaged or buried infrastructure can be located and ownership information provided.

Satellite mapping such as Google Earth is something with which we are all familiar. GIS software, such as ArcGIS, provides multiple layers of information, overlaid on satellite imagery. This GIS data is used in all four phases of emergency and disaster operations:


Locating and identifying critical infrastructure, showing exact location and specific information, is an important part of any emergency or disaster planning. Water mains, fire hydrants and down to entrance access codes nearest to the response call; this information can be gathered and noted directly upon satellite maps of your territory. Nationwide or a specific parcel, the scope is determined by your need.


Murphy’s Law is a constant reminder of the importance of alternatives in emergency or disaster situations. Who, what and where may be the first questions to answer, but how answers when. Unexpected delays greatly increase response time. GIS mapping helps identify potential problems, which in turn leads to alternative solutions.


The time spent gathering and noting detailed GIS data is priceless in aiding a rapid response. Prioritizing, as well as identifying the nearest next call, allows for a rapid, efficient use of resources. Real-time mapping using a combination of GIS and GPS technology allows responders to find locations when landmarks and roads are not visible. Details such as the location and identification of hazardous materials are important to the safety of responders.


At the community level, GIS aids in the location and identification of critical infrastructure. Prioritizing repair speeds recovery. At the personal level, GIS parcel data provides property boundaries when all physical landmarks are gone. Insurance claims are simplified when ownership can be established even when documents have been destroyed. Topographical details captured pre-disaster can be the difference between insurance coverage or none at all.

GIS is an unsung hero of modern life. If you look, you’ll find it everywhere.

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