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August 7th, 2013
Mapping Volunteers in Australia are Helping to Save Lives

Once deployed to an emergency they work behind the scenes using Geographic Information System (GIS) technology from industry leader Esri Australia to deliver critical disaster intelligence to fire fighters, police or other personnel on the ground and in the emergency control centres.

MAPS member and Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Assistant Director Marcus Blake said the team used their GIS skills to produce detailed maps layered with vital, real-time information on what was occurring during the disaster.

“For emergency services in disaster situations it is critical they have reliable, up-to-date information as quickly as possible,” Mr Blake said.

“GIS technology enables us to rapidly collect, process, and distribute vital maps of information to response teams and senior management making decisions in the field when they need it.

“The interactive maps contain layers of data – such as flood-mapping, road closures, where people have been reported missing or where Red Cross resources are located – that can be switched on or off, depending on the information required.

“Verified social media and crowd-sourced data can also be integrated into the picture.

“By viewing this vast array of emergency information in the one map, personnel can quickly see patterns – such as where the nearest evacuation point is relative to a flood’s path for example – and determine the best course of action.”

MAPS was formed in 2005 to support response activities after prolonged fires hit the nation’s capital in 2003.

Mr Blake said the Canberra-based group has provided mapping support during some of the nation’s most devastating events including both the 2009 Victorian Black Saturday bushfires and 2011 Queensland floods and cyclones.

“We were holed up in a police station interrogation room during the Victorian Black Saturday bushfires and evacuated from Red Cross’ Queensland headquarters when the Brisbane River broke its banks during the floods,” Mr Blake said.

“Our help can be requested when there is a significant emergency anywhere in Australia – and there seems to be significant events on a regular basis these days.

“While we are still working behind a desk, MAPS is far more intense and stressful than our day jobs.”

Esri Australia GIS Specialist Josh Venman said the Esri technology used by MAPS was fast becoming a global standard.

“Use of this technology extends beyond Australian disasters, with thousands of response agencies globally using ArcGIS technology to deal with crises, such as the recent Japan Tsunami and the Oklahoma twister,” Mr Venman said.

“MAPS experiences and achievements are ultimately contributing to the international pool of knowledge for GIS users volunteering their skills in times of need.

“GIS technology is vital in the midst of a disaster, when information is critical and people’s lives are at stake.”

MAPS provides additional support to the existing GIS expertise within the emergency services and is helping to extend the impact of modern geospatial technologies.

For more information on the Canberra based MAPS team visit – http://maps-group.org/about-us