January 24, 2005
Responding to Florida's 2004 Hurricane Season
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor

by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
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Message from the Editor -

Welcome to GISWeekly! What was GIS used for during Florida's heavy hurricane season in 2004? According to Jon Hansen of Autodesk, GIS was employed for the preparation or pre-impact damage assessment, during impact and post-impact for search and rescue, damage assessment and throughout the ordeal, and getting critical information to the public during the four hurricanes. Read about it in this week's Industry News.

Also this week, many GIS companies are getting involved in the tsunami disaster relief and response effort. Find out what's new on the emergency response and relief front.

GISWeekly examines select top news each week, picks out worthwhile reading from around the web, and special interest items you might not find elsewhere. This issue will feature Industry News, Acquisitions/Alliances/Agreements, Announcements, Appointments, New Products, Around the Web and Upcoming Events.

GISWeekly welcomes letters and feedback from readers, so let us know what you think. Send your comments to me at

Best wishes,

Susan Smith, Managing Editor

Industry News

Responding to Florida's 2004 Hurricane Season

By Susan Smith

What was GIS used for during Florida's heavy hurricane season in 2004? Jon Hansen of Autodesk, and former Assistant Rescue Fire Chief for Oklahoma City, best known for being the “voice” of Oklahoma City during the Murrah Building bombing, is well versed in dealing with emergency response in critical situations. According to Hansen, during the hurricanes, GIS was employed for the preparation or pre-impact damage assessment, during impact and post-impact for search and rescue, damage assessment and throughout the ordeal, and getting critical information to the public during the four hurricanes.


Screen capture of the public site at a time when Hurricane Ivan was just about ready to make landfall. Notice the school closings, for example.
Of course, any solutions are reliant on what stage of the disaster they are called upon to respond to, which depends upon advance notice. In one Florida county, Hansen said, a MapGuide system had been developed to prepare for the onslaught of the recent hurricanes. MapGuide is designed to manage and distribute geospatial information across the internet to all team members, emergency responders and the public. The system, consisting of Crisis Command on top of MapGuide, with information on predesignated shelters, evacuation routes, is also capable of doing some analysis on predicting some storm surges and damage. It also has built in warning systems. “If a storm hit in a certain area
and it
was a category 2,3, 4, etc., they could load that in the system and get a pretty good idea what buildings would be damaged, so they could plan before the hurricane hit how they were going to restore some of that critical infrastructure once the hurricane had past,” said Hansen.

A MapGuide based
website in the Florida Emergency Operation Center (EOC) allowed Florida citizens statewide to log on and get the latest information on the status of the storm, what precautions to take, some evacuation routes, and shelter identification. Autodesk Applications Engineer Curtis Egli was able to identify problems and make improvements in the couple of days preceding the hurricane, as well critique afterwards to see what could be done better if it should happen again. According to Egli, the EOC already had a good system in place, so he simply worked with their technical staff at the EOC making changes and adjustments.

Because there were a number of different kinds of solutions and software used for disaster response, Autodesk has been working to put together solutions that will handle all of the emergency response needs and integrate the different solutions--from a GIS perspective and a CAD perspective. The goal is to gather information from inside and outside the building and compile it in one great set of emergency response software. “We used this technology during the response to the Oklahoma City Murrah Building bombing,” noted Hansen. “We're working on getting a complete suite of options to the emergency responder so that he or she can help make decisions prior to the incident
happening, during the incident happening, and to help try to recover from the incident as well.”

“After Hurricane Charley hit, we went down to Florida to see what some of the needs were and to look at what some of the emergency responders were using,” Hansen said. “We found that some emergency responders were just using paper maps--some they'd drawn prior to the event to do some grid searches in terms of searching buildings right after the storm had passed.” Of course, the type of emergency response systems used by responders varied from county to county.

Egli said that the Autodesk products such as MapGuide and Crisis Command formed a solution that worked as an information hub for longtime Autodesk customer, Florida EOC. Autodesk Crisis Command is designed for first responders and emergency response officials and provides functionality for incident reporting and notification, administration, work orders and time reports, critical asset tracking, resource information, pre-planning, dynamic 3D visualization and command and control, besides fire-specific capabilities. In concert with MapGuide, the EOC was able to create, update and disseminate maps and geospatial data about the hurricanes to all involved parties who had an internet browser.

As the EOC knew there would be more hurricanes coming (that geographical area is known as “the Bowling Alley”), they asked Autodesk to look at their existing system and see if they could make it more effective during the 2004 hurricane season. Primary objectives included:
1) assessing the system and determining what could be done to alleviate the “funnel” that occurred where only a few people had access to the files. This presented a bottleneck of problems when, for example, a person only needs a plot, but because of the funnel where only a few people know how to do one task, they can't get the work done that they need quickly enough. In a disaster where there are a lot of people all trying to respond to it and react to it, they don't get what they need in terms of the information and planning that needs to happen ASAP.

2) Creating a centralized information “hub” that could be accessed on different levels by multiple people using a browser.
Egli's job was to evaluate the system and make it “less of a funnel.” “Our solution is about making an information hub that multiple people can zoom into to see the resources and where they stand.” Field data came in as a constant flow for a variety of assets and personnel. For example they needed to track tree cutters, trucks of ice, trucks of plywood, generators, etc. as well as status of school closings, hotel room availability, government closures, county evacuation status and local state of emergency. With the information hub, “they can see where they need to move their own folks, plywood or tree cutters or ice, etc. They can make their own decisions
without having to query the few
people who would be running desktop applications that are not Autodesk solutions.”

The Florida EOC is allowed to call on any personnel they need from other agencies during a time of disaster. Egli reported that in the GIS lab where he was working, there was a full time staff comprised of network operators, system administrators and the GIS coordinator, only a few of whom were full timers, the rest had been grabbed out of the other agencies and asked to come help. Those agencies included the Department of Health, Animal Control, and Department of Environmental Protection. In a case like this where they knew what the disaster could be and were preparing for it, the staff from those agencies would be assigned to the areas they knew best. For example,
the Department of Health
people would be involved in mass care, and evacuation of nursing homes and other facilities to empty facilities such as schools and auditoriums. They would also take stock of what was needed in the temporary facility such as blankets, ice, etc.

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