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June 25th, 2013
Technology to Predict Natural Disaster Impact Years in Advance

In an address to the Asia Oceania Geosciences Society conference in Brisbane today, Esri Australia emergency management specialist Josh Venman said GIS technology could arm emergency managers with unprecedented foresight into the path and impact of a crisis – years before the event even unfolds.

“GIS technology enables us to map and analyse the massive amounts of data that must be taken into consideration when projecting the outcome of natural disaster events,” Mr Venman said.

“In the case of a flood for example, this data includes land elevation models, historical flood data, infrastructure locations and construction types, populations at risk, dam and seawater levels, evacuation centre locations, road closures, and weather and climate data and more.

“GIS technology analyses all these information sources and allows us to run modelling of the impacts of various disaster event scenarios – such as storm events or sea level rises – to understand the impact that may take place.

“For example, we can model a one-in-100-year event to accurately project the course and extent of a flood; establish what infrastructure and communities it will impact; and determine the best course of action to minimise damage.

“We can also assess the capacity of the emergency services resources within a given area to deal with an event of a particular magnitude, and even model where additional resources can be sourced in the event that local capacity is exhausted.

“This type of advanced modelling can take place years in advance to ensure government authorities can better understand the risks facing communities and put appropriate mitigation measures in place – such as adopting “disaster-safe” planning schemes and building codes, and locating infrastructure and populations in low risk areas.

“Many Australian organisations are already using GIS technology to respond to and recover from crises – the challenge now is to use the technology to predict events by creating a common view of risk, capability and capacity.”

Mr Venman’s call comes following a recent study of Australia’s local governments, which revealed 76 per cent of councils believe GIS technology is important when planning for a crisis; and 57 per cent indicating it is important in emergency mitigation.

Mr Venman said beyond preparing for a disaster, GIS technology could also deliver accurate, real-time data to members of the public caught in the middle of a disaster.

“GIS technology enables emergency services organisations to publish their own intelligence for the community – via the universal language of online maps,” Mr Venman said.

“Location can be a critical factor in creating context and, ultimately, situational awareness for those trapped in a disaster, so providing access to maps of evacuation routes or the path of a flood or fire could ultimately save lives.

“Data from other organisations such as the Red Cross or the Department of Transport can also be included on the one mapping site to create a single location for important disaster information.”

Mr Venman said an increasing number of agencies are using GIS as the backbone of their disaster managements systems, including Queensland Fire and Rescue Services, the Country Fire Authority and the NSW State Emergency Service.

The Asia Oceania Geosciences Society runs from the 24 – 28 June at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre.