On the Job: GIS Aids Red Cross in Hurricane Relief Efforts

14 Nov, 2005 Cadalyst

ESRI mapping, spatial analysis and Web services support national, local response to Katrina, Rita.

The Red Cross is using GIS (geographic information systems) technology from ESRI for relief efforts following hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Computer mapping, spatial analysis and GIS Web services have assisted the agency in providing communities and displaced people with food, clothing, shelter and other essential services. GIS technology has helped support senior-level staff at its headquarters in Washington, D.C., as well as staff operating at local forward command centers who are helping provide shelters, hotel housing, emotional support programs and meals.

Facilitating Better Response
"We use GIS at the Red Cross to provide information to senior executives who use maps to make better, more informed decisions," says Greg Tune, lead program manager for disaster assessment and GIS, Red Cross. "The types of work we do using GIS would have been very slow-moving without the technology. What would have involved fold-out paper maps and Post-It notes is now a fully automated, constantly updated process. Perhaps most important, the kinds of mapping and analysis we do can be targeted based on need or request. We are more responsive and effective because of the technology."

Eric Maier, ESRI commercial account manager, adds, "Using GIS technology, the Red Cross was able to better plan prior to hurricanes Katrina and Rita as well as respond with greater flexibility and precision after the events. ESRI deployed resources to help generate maps and data on wind fields, damaged areas, populations, city infrastructure, streets and more. This information was provided to Red Cross managers, directors and senior leadership who make decisions and carry out strategic planning."

This map depicts the track of both hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Each point represents the wind speed at that advisory. The map also shows the American Red Cross chapter boundaries and areas not covered by a chartered chapter.

Public and Private Information
ESRI provided on-site staff and resources from its Washington, D.C., office to quickly expand and extend the existing Red Cross GIS platform. In addition, ESRI specialists at the Redlands, California, headquarters worked closely with Red Cross personnel to develop a Shelter Locator ArcWeb Services application that provides information such as address, capacity, population and other descriptors available to both internal Red Cross staff as well as the public.

General mapping and GIS support included maps used for preplanning and response. Personnel, equipment, supplies and other resources were strategically placed and planned for using GIS-generated maps prior to hurricanes Katrina and Rita making landfall. This included identifying counties at risk and counties that would serve as host sites for shelters, supply centers and other forward operating facilities.

As the hurricane barreled over land, work was done on the fly using ESRI's ArcGIS Desktop software to calculate exactly what was happening at various locations. Post-event response included damage assessments; GIS-generated hurricane wind field maps; and maps, charts and reports depicting the number of people impacted by the hurricane, including displaced people. The high volume and demand for maps and GIS analysis resulted in thousands of maps being generated and used throughout the Red Cross.

This map depicts the Gulf Coast counties of Mississippi. Color coding indicates levels of damage and flooding according to remote-sensing assessments by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

This thematic map shows the affected Texas counties from Hurricane Rita. Symbols indicate the percentage of homes that suffered damage, as documented by the Red Cross. A pie chart represents the 2004 total housing units compared to the Red Cross damage figures.

GIS had been deployed by the Red Cross prior to the impact of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, aiding in its ongoing planning sessions and thousands of relief operations it responds to every year. GIS helped the Red Cross map potential shelters and Red Cross jurisdictions and identify potential hurricane risk and host counties among its network of more than 800 chapters. Once it identified those locations, the Red Cross could better work with local governments and emergency management in planning sessions that ultimately aided its response to hurricanes Katrina and Rita and will help in other future events.

On-going Support
In addition, a separate Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita Web mapping application using ESRI ArcIMS was implemented for internal use by Red Cross chapters and staff in the field to view all types of information in customized digital map form. Red Cross users can log on to the site and select map layers for shelters, kitchens, damaged and flooded areas, affected Zip codes and evacuee hotels. Data is provided for various dates, so users can view information within a temporal context and track the hurricane impact over time. Viewers can pan, zoom, identify items and select specific information they would like to map.

American Red Cross open shelter locations for hurricanes Katrina and Rita on October 4, 2005. Symbols indicate the shelter population and open sleeping spaces for that day.