A disaster is characterized by the impacts it causes, including:
- Destruction or extensive damage to public and private infrastructure, lifelines, communication networks and, in some cases, telecommunication infrastructure;
- High number of deceased, injured and displaced persons;
- Interruption of lifelines and routine activities, and difficulties in the mobilization of basic resources.
Advances in geospatial information technologies and communications
In recent years important advances have been consolidated in regards to geospatial information technologies, telecommunications, and smart mobile devices (tablets and smart phones that make use of global navigation satellite systems). However, these technologies have not found their place in disaster response operations in all countries where such disasters may occur.
In the year 2013, the United States Southern Command’s Science, Technology and Experimentation Division spearheaded the development of the GeoSHAPE tool with the goal of facilitating the generation and sharing of geospatial information among all those involved in disaster response operations. This tool combines a mobile application for the collection of data and photographs of affected areas using smart phones and tablets, and a web-based application that allows combining, publishing, and distributing geo-spatial information among all actors. Through the use of GeoSHAPE, all relevant actors can generate and share geo-referenced data on key issues, including:
Data on affected sites (damaged or destroyed homes, injured, deceased, displaced people, damage to roads and bridges, hospitals, schools and other public buildings, etc.);
- Geographical location of sites used for the distribution of food and water;
- Availability of shelters for displaced persons;
- Specific needs in the affected areas (doctors, ambulances, medicines, and other resources);
- Location of personnel sent to offer humanitarian assistance;
- Situation of helicopter landing sites and airfields for evacuation of critically injured persons.
This information can be included as layers on maps that can be displayed in the Emergency Operations Centers (EOCs) and can be accessed by other relevant actors through an Internet browser, from anywhere in the world, or by using a mobile device such as a smart phone or a tablet.
The strength of GeoSHAPE lies in its capacity to provide all the relevant stakeholders with the ability to join efforts in the generation, updating and sharing of relevant geospatial information. In order to provide this service, GeoSHAPE incorporates the ability to maintain the integrity, consistency, and provenance of the data, information and maps generated by any of the stakeholders.
The goal of the project is to develop procedures for incorporating the use of the GeoSHAPE tool in countries which operate EOCs to coordinate disaster response efforts.
The procedure to incorporate the use of the GeoSHAPE tool includes the following types of activities:
- Downloading the GeoSHAPE tool;
- Adaptation of servers and databases so that they can handle the geospatial files generated with GeoSHAPE, and adaptation of geo-viewers and other applications used in the EOCs for the visualization of the products generated (dynamic maps);
- Analysis of the manuals or protocols of operation of the EOCs to see the way in which GeoSHAPE can be integrated into these protocols or manuals;
- Incorporation of the specific applications related to GeoSHAPE in smart mobile devices (smart phones and tablets);
- Training in the use of GeoSHAPE in the EOCs and in the field;
- The use of mobile devices to perform the Damage and Needs assessments, gather images and other supplementary information, and to send that information to the EOCs via internet;
- The execution of simulations to verify the proper operation of GeoSHAPE in the routine activities of the EOCs.
Disasters usually exceed the capabilities of the affected communities. In such cases, local authorities must rely on departmental, provincial or national authorities for assistance.
In many countries, hierarchical structures have been established to respond to disasters in a more timely and effective fashion, including EOCs operated at the municipal, state/provincial and national levels. The incorporation of the use of tools such as GeoSHAPE in these hierarchical structures can facilitate the conduct of the following activities:
- Collect data in the field to prepare the damage and needs assessment, and relay it to municipal EOCs;
- Elaborate situational maps in the municipal EOCs and share them with the EOCs at the departmental, provincial and national levels;
- Incorporate complementary features in such maps, including relevant notes, and facilitate the elaboration of additional maps at the state, provincial and national levels by combining the information included in the situational maps of all the affected municipalities;
- Update the maps while maintaining their integrity, consistency and provenance;
- Share maps and other information with other relevant stakeholders, including non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the private sector and the international humanitarian community;
- Contribute to the decision-making process by offering the fastest and most efficient way to respond to disasters in all affected sites.