The 7 Things Your Team Should Know About GIS


GIS, or geographic information systems, is a data analysis system that allows you to put information in place on existing maps from street maps to satellite imagery. GIS makes your data location-aware. It is vitally important that emergency responders have a grasp of how GIS works, as an understanding of the system will allow for better strategic planning when organising and coordinating a response.

1.) Co-Operation and Continuity is Crucial

It is absolutely vital that any agencies working together use the same coordinate system. An example of why this is important comes from the first US Gulf War, when the US Navy and Air Force were working together, with one providing the location to be hit and the other providing the firepower. It took a number of missions to figure out that the reason every hit was several meters off was because they were using different UTM map projections.

2.) You're Probably Already Using It

Your team almost certainly already uses GIS technology in the form of web mapping technologies such as Google Maps, Mapquest and similar online mapping programs. GPS systems uses a similar UTM projection and a grid of satellites to determine the change in your position from orbit.

3.) It is Highly Dynamic

GIS systems help analyze data to create maps showing changes in the earth's topography. This means that during an earthquake, tsunami or volcano, mapping can be updated to reflect changes in position of different structures and elevations, keeping your entire team up to date in the field. This is especially important during an ongoing crisis such as long-term weather threats, changing water levels or earthquake aftershocks causing additional subsidence.

4.) Industry Support is Available

When responding on international incidents, if your team is already familiar with GIS following the Open Geospatial Consortium's (OGS) standards, they will be ready to coordinate with other international teams because they are all using the same standard. This international organization provides guidance and standards for GIS systems and implementation.

5.) It Allows for More Accurate Predictions

Completely current topographical maps help determine what areas will be affected by flooding as a river rises, climate models using historical data combine an amazing amount of data to help determine the likely direction wind and rain will come from during a wildfire and whether historical prevailing winds will carry a chemical plume towards or away from population centers.

6.) Effective Collaboration Made Possible

Data from the field can create a common operating picture (COP) of the response area, including possible threats, lines of transportation and evacuation, locations of potential resources and relief centers and similar areas of concern during an operation, which can then be quickly distributed among team members using mobile technologies.

7.) Understanding of Your System is Vital

Distance, direction and shape can change based on the type of projection which is used. Mercator projections preserve direction, but not shape or area, whereas other types of mapping projections may record shape or distance more accurately, but a straight line on the map may not reflect a straight line using a compass bearing. Whichever system you use, you need to understand the rules it works under to prevent potential life-threatening issues in the field.

Given the circumstances emergency responders often find themselves working under, it is vitally important that they have a basic grasp of how GIS interfaces work. By being able to use mapping and GIS programs for strategic planning, your organization is able to better coordinate a response.

Esri and D4H

Esri, the global leader in mapping, develops exceptional Geographic Information Systems. Their technology uses geography to create sustainable solutions for problems at both a local and a global scale. D4H has a variety of mapping reports available in our product including Esri mapping, heatmaps, cluster maps and similar tools. Please contact us for further information on our products or Request an Information Pack.

Stay tuned to our D4H blog as we will be soon sharing with you, the details of Esri's Disaster Response Program and how GIS is used effectively in emergency management.

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