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ArcGIS allows emergency management teams to respond to incidents and update the public immediately.

GIS technology improves the workflow of emergency management

Over the last several years, emergency management has become more complicated. Large-scale emergencies seem to be more prevalent, and new threats exist. The need to plan for, prevent, and reduce the consequences of emergencies is greater than ever. Emergency management has the responsibility to collaborate with, coordinate, and facilitate multiple departments in planning, response, and recovery.

Geographic information system (GIS) technology effectively improves the workflow in all phases of emergency management:

  • Assessment
  • Mitigation
  • Planning and Analysis
  • Response
  • Recovery

The Esri ArcGIS platform’s geographic analytics provide the context for understanding trends, identifying vulnerabilities, and taking action.


A geographic context helps to determine safety problems, set priorities, build consensus, allocate resources, and measure progress. Performing risk assessments to identify vulnerabilities and build maps can lead to understanding potential impacts. Using location-based analytics can turn data into information. For example, a predictive modeling tool to determine smoke drift helps keep communities safe.

Understanding earthquake trends including historic locations, plate boundaries and intensity zones can help determine safety problems, set priorities and allocate resources.

Understanding earthquake trends including historic locations, plate boundaries and intensity zones can help determine safety problems, set priorities and allocate resources.


Mitigation efforts attempt to prevent hazards from developing into disasters altogether or reduce the effects of disasters when they occur. The mitigation phase differs from the other phases because it focuses on long-term measures for reducing or eliminating risk. Successful mitigation is a direct result of comprehensive planning and analysis.

Planning and analysis

Emergency management planning is the process of analyzing a community’s hazards, risks, and values to determine its vulnerabilities to natural and manmade disasters. A comprehensive risk and hazard analysis provides the foundation for the development of mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery plans. Emergency management planning requires acquiring, integrating, and analyzing vast amounts of information and data in a variety of disparate formats to develop a comprehensive risk-based emergency management program.

The ArcGIS platform provides the capability to map and analyze hazards of all types and visualize their potential impacts. When hazards are fused with critical infrastructure, population densities, and other community values, vulnerabilities can be observed, modeled, and better understood. Based on the potential impact of any particular hazard to critical values, priorities for mitigation can be established. Contingency and response plans can also be developed based on important values at risk.


Emergency managers develop plans of action for when disaster strikes. Priorities for action plan development are identified in the planning and analysis process.

To achieve comprehensive preparedness, a great deal of information must be gathered and managed. When disasters strike, the right information must be available at the right place to support emergency decision requirements. GIS, in addition to supporting the preparedness workflow, is a powerful data management system.

Managing data in case of emergency

The ArcGIS platform manages geographic data and disparate documents (plans, photographs, etc.) that are necessary to meet the emergency management mission. GIS provides a capability to access information based on the geographic location to which it pertains, allowing users to get various types of information from the map display. This could include emergency response plans, mitigations plans, and contact lists. The management of resources is essential to support the emergency management mission. Resources include both public safety and civilian resources and their locations, such as fire trucks, emergency vehicles, bulldozers, hardware suppliers, and food and water resources. When these types of assets are inventoried and accessible through GIS, the appropriate resources and their proximity to an emergency can be contacted for timely response.

One of the most complex challenges of incident management is managing the location, status, and capabilities of all of the resources needed to meet incident requirements. Managing resources requires current and accurate data. GIS provides the ability to visualize all types of resources and their current availability and location for effective incident management.

ArcGIS provides situational awareness when events happen so critical data such as infrastructure, imagery, and hazards are integrated with dynamic event data (sensors, cameras, traffic, incidents, etc.) to represent the current situation.

ArcGIS provides situational awareness when events happen so critical data such as infrastructure, imagery, and hazards are integrated with dynamic event data (sensors, cameras, traffic, incidents, etc.) to represent the current situation.

Situational awareness

Situational awareness is being aware of what is happening around you to understand how information, events, and actions will impact your goals and objectives both now and in the near future. This is especially important where information flows are high and poor decisions may lead to serious consequences.

In the context of an Emergency Operations Center (EOC), achieving timely situational awareness is essential to maintain an understanding of events, incidents, and developments to anticipate, respond to, and manage actual or potential emergencies. GIS provides situational awareness through a common operating picture. ArcGIS can display relevant GIS data (critical infrastructure, imagery, hazards, etc.) and integrates dynamic event data (sensors, cameras, traffic, incidents, etc.) to represent the current situation throughout the jurisdiction, region, or nation. Comprehensive situational awareness provides the capability for emergency management personnel to make better decisions that can then be quickly displayed, shared, and understood by those who need to take action. The common operating picture can be enhanced when response plans, contingency plans, and other documents are linked to the location or locations for which they were developed. Rapid access to planning information through the common operating picture begins to “operationalize” the planning process.


Emergency management assists in the mobilization of emergency services and resources to support first responders for complex emergencies. This can include specialist rescue teams, logistical support, public safety, volunteers, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and others. The Emergency Operations Center is responsible for supporting incident management operation needs and maintains continuity of operations for the community. Acquiring, managing, and maintaining status of resources from various locations is an important function.

Field Operations

Both response and recovery require close coordination and information exchange between the field and EOC. These requirements are often needed under stressful, chaotic conditions, when good information is required to support critical operations. ArcGIS provides the capability for rapid data exchange that is easy to assimilate, understand, and act on. This capability allows EOC to provide elected officials, department heads, and other stakeholders with accurate situation status and data about actual and potential impacts.

Current and timely information is also essential in order to provide the public with information such as shelter locations, evacuation routes, road closures, and hazard areas. Mobile GIS data can be easily integrated into the common operating picture and visualized, shared, and acted on without delay. When the common operating picture is current, better decisions can be made. These capabilities are important during response but can play a very important role during recovery. Using mobile GIS in field recovery operations provides the EOC with a capability to rapidly integrate and display damage impacts from field inspectors in various locations.

Disaster events are increasing, populations are moving into more disaster-prone landscapes, and new threats exist. To meet the demands, professional tools and technology are required. GIS technology can serve a variety of purposes in supporting the workflows and mission of the emergency management profession. Comprehensive emergency management requires coordination and collaboration among many stakeholders – department heads, elected officials, privately held business, the community, and others. The collection of information, analysis of community vulnerabilities, development of mitigation strategies, and overall risk management preparedness is daunting.

When emergencies occur, key stakeholders must share information on the scope of the event and collaborate on the most effective way to manage the incident and maintain government operations. Emergency Operations Centers activate their situation status rooms where various officials meet, share information, and provide their expert input for emergency decision support.

ArcGIS provides a platform for events; their relationship to critical infrastructure can be shared with remote locations, which reduces the need to have everyone in one location. ArcGIS provides a platform for the storage and management of all types of data that can be easily accessed for emergency decision support. The use of GIS technology, namely the ArcGIS platform, is improving how emergency management professionals do their work.

For more information, go to www.esri.com


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Russ Johnson has over 30 years of experience in public safety, where he was responsible for planning, preparedness, response, and recovery for large-scale disasters and emergencies. Russ led one of the 18 United States National Incident Management Teams for the Federal Government, responding to very complex disasters throughout the U.S. and internationally. In this capacity, he utilized GIS to manage all aspects of the public safety mission. He helped pioneer the development of standards for the U.S. in the use of GIS for incident management within the Incident Command System.

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