To help respond to a potential community-wide emergency, most local governments have an emergency response plan in place to assist with the organization and execution of community policies and protocols. As technology has improved over the years, the City of Des Plaines started integrating Geographic Information System (GIS) into a tool for assisting with the management of an emergency event response.
In recent years, the city dealt with two major flooding events that required city departments to respond quickly to the needs of its residents. This included responding during the events by implementing preventative measures to mitigate property damage, and after the events to assist with cleanup and damage assessment. Since each event affected several areas of the city, it was difficult to manage and respond to each area efficiently and to see the extent of the damage using traditional methods of data management. By inputting the collected information into the city’s GIS system, each department was able to see the event spatially and get a total perspective of how the flooding was impacting different areas.
The way GIS was used during and after these events varied depending on the department. Examples of the map products produced include road closure maps, standing-water location maps, damage-assessment zone maps, and sandbag placement maps. While each map was designed based on a specific department request, they were ultimately used to assist departments with communicating information to each other. Providing the collected data spatially provided a universal language that allowed all city employees to understand the specific event being displayed and where it was impacting the city. However, maps were not the only products that were produced. Another critical function the GIS system served was to provide address lists to building inspectors, public works field crews, and police department officials to convey information regarding damaged and flooded homes and city properties. Collectively, these products provided the city with critical resources to help manage the mitigation and cleanup of each flood event.
In addition, to paper mapping products and address lists, the city also used GIS to perform “on the spot” data review of contours, city structures, roads, and other infrastructure features. This was performed using ESRI’s ArcMap and ArcReader software, which allowed departments to interactively view and analyze GIS data as needed. Being able to view this information electronically, and add information to the system as needed, allowed city users to quickly access vital data that assisted in activities such as flood stage analysis and sandbag placement determination.
Including GIS as part of the city’s emergency management strategy has allowed the city to react quickly to emergency events by improving inter-department communication and the ability to review the impact of the event by spatially analyzing the extent of the damage that occurred. This capability provides the city with a powerful tool for responding to an emergency in a way that maximizes its ability to help its residents.