For the last 10 years, disaster after disaster has come upon us. Whether it’s due to our own treatment of Mother Earth or just a way of Mother Earth balancing things out, we will never know. We have seen the destruction brought forth by hurricanes and the popular of which is Hurricane Katrina that resulted to loss of millions of lives and millions of dollars of property. Another infamous disaster is the tsunami that hit the parts of South Asia in gigantic proportions. We have been witnesses to countless typhoons, landslides, earthquakes, flooding, and volcanic eruptions in this past decade alone.
Even with the advanced technology that we have, we can not predict for sure when disaster will strike. And we’re not talking about natural disaster only; there are other man-made disasters such as fire and the spread of viruses, such as the recent outbreak of the swine flu or influenza A (H1N1). We have weather satellites up in space and detection systems, but none of these can ever protect us from the onslaught of disaster. What we can do is be prepared as much as we can and that goes for every individual and for every community.
Many local governments have integrated the use of Geographic Information System (GIS) for their disaster management and mitigation programs. GIS makes use of “graphic” information versus available data to help in the decision-making process for policy makers and those who are tasked to implement disaster management activities.
In geographic information, officials are armed with digital maps of different information. Each map is considered as a layer and can be overlaid on top of one another to help in the graphical representation of a certain area and determine what disasters could possibly happen.
This digital information may include a state layer, a road layer, a population layer, a commercial or business layer, topographic layer, water and water networks layer. Sometimes, other useful information such as layers on areas where there are schools and transportation are included as well.
The topographic layer is especially useful in detecting low-lying areas where possible water can collect and cause flooding. Overlay this with the population density of the area, and you would know which communities will be affected and would require an evacuation plan. Since flooding is a natural occurrence, a well-defined evacuation plan suitable for each location can be drawn and implemented once disaster strikes.
Digital mapping allows people involved in disaster management to get a clearer picture on what may be in store for them when incidents happen.
Flooding is dependent on many factors including how often the rain or typhoon occurs and the rainfall density or precipitation. This information can be laid out on the area of concern’s topographic layer as earlier discussed and predict which locations would be susceptible to flooding. Not only that, information regarding the overflow of rivers and dams can be calculated as well.
Landslides are natural occurrences due to frequent rains. However, it is not without help. Through the years, man has cut down trees and left the soil without support to hold it together. Using GIS, topographic maps already has information on the natural ridges of the earth and can show which locations are susceptible to landslides. Furthermore, the environmental agency has information on areas where there are logging activities which can contribute to the loosening of the soil. Overlaying these two layers over one another can highlight problem areas.
With this information, disaster management teams can plan areas where they can put up soil support such as walls, specifically for areas near road systems and near subdivisions.
Over time, through the help of satellites, weathermen are able to predict the imminent typhoons. Furthermore, since climate and weather goes hand in hand, there is a rainy season and a summer season. However, based on recent years, due to global warming, it seems that our weather has become more unpredictable. As we are currently experiencing, hurricanes have been happening more frequently and the summer season would see typhoons looming in the horizon. The winter is not as cold as before and the summer months have become hotter than ever.
Information on rain precipitation and rainfall occurrence and the wind factor can be laid over area maps and show which places will be the hardest hit. Also the areas that were usually affected by such weather condition can be overlaid on the said layers and can give additional information.
A lot has been studied about earthquakes and there are a lot of disaster management activities that are being done already. Using GIS, information on the earthquake faults, volcanoes, and other pertinent data may be laid over the residential, business, and commercial maps. This way, areas which are the likely targets of earthquakes can be given fair warning. Contractors and builders would do well to heed the information from the maps in order to build sturdy structures that can withstand the quakes. Or sometimes, it is better to leave the problem spots altogether.
Volcanic eruptions are something that is usually predicted. However, there are a few times that they can happen without warning. But suffice to say, areas where there is volcanic activity is always at risk of a disaster. The topographic layer in the GIS can show the areas where volcanoes are located plus the areas where there is obvious action of the folding and faulting of land. With this information, disaster management can be focused on this areas specific to volcanic activity and sometimes, even earthquakes. It is always advisable not to put up communities near volcanoes, but the richness of the soil has been hard to resist for most farmers and landowners. Local government in these areas should have evacuation plans should eruption occurs.
In the last days of 2004, we have seen tsunamis hitting our shores. Unfortunately, we cannot accurately predict such but through GIS we can present the likeliest location where it will hit. Of course there is always a threat of a tsunami hitting areas near oceans but there are more susceptible locations. These are locations where the topographic layer can shed some light. The topography under the sea is a factor in the creation of waves. Some areas have bigger waves than others. Therefore, should tsunami strike, it would be those areas that can be characterized by the location’s topography.
Viruses or outbreaks are not just something out of the movie screen. Recently, we have experienced the fast becoming pandemic of H1N1 virus that began in Mexico and that has spread the U.S. States. This is something our officials have taken seriously. Knowing the source of the outbreak is useful information to cordon off an area that will be susceptible to its spread.
Sometimes, there are instances when it is difficult to pinpoint the source of the outbreak. GIS is used to plot the areas where the occurrences are. Overlaying this information on other layers such as community layer or water networks can yield helpful results. From past cases of dengue where there was seemingly no relationships as to where the first outbreak of this disease has taken place, using the water network layer helped show that areas near the river have high outbreak incidence. Our local government will not only be able to address the issue of giving medical support but can put a lid on the problem. They can issue a cleanup for these areas so that mosquitoes would not thrive and cause further sickness.
Disaster management does not end in the prediction of problem areas in a community. Detection is only the first step. GIS is just a tool to help officials make the right decision and to act on the decision quickly. Homeowners are also encouraged to prepare their own emergency kit in times of disaster. Living in a place for a long time allows you to become well-acquainted with the common natural disasters that hit the area. Do not be complacent. Prepare for the unexpected.
For areas that are frequently hit by hurricanes, tornadoes, or storm, a shelter is usually built beneath the house or a location safe from the harmful effects of these calamities.
For areas that are frequented by earthquakes, teach your family members the safe places to hide and the easiest exits from your home or building. To minimize the possible breakage inside the home, screw to the ground movable objects such as the tables, bookshelves, and cabinets.
It is always best to have a handy emergency gear nearby which has flashlights, extra batteries, matches, axe, and a first aid kit.
The local government should also be able to orient its residents as to where the evacuation areas are should disaster strikes. In the end, even with GIS as a tool, this will all be for naught if proper information dissemination is not done. Residents should be informed on the disaster management emergency activities as well as even encourage dry runs. Japan has been a leading country that uses such preparation activity. They would simulate earthquake occurrences to check the response time of the people, the medical team, the rescue team and the firemen.
Disaster Management is not the job alone of the local government. This has always been a community effort. Everybody should be informed on what the emergency response procedure should be for each disaster.