During an emergency event, the type of event, the extent of the area affected, and the number of issues occurring as a result of the event are just some of the factors that need to be processed, organized, and reviewed by local government staff to determine the most appropriate course of action. Perhaps the greatest challenge of any emergency response is controlling where information is coming from and which pieces of information are more critical than others. Using GIS (Geographic Information System) as a tool in all stages of the emergency management process brings a spatial component to the planning and implementation of an action plan, helping to visualize all relevant information for a more efficient and successful community response.
As with other tools used to assist during an emergency response, a GIS system will only produce a product as good as the information it’s provided. Therefore, while visualizing things such as flooded intersections or downed power line locations is an advantage of using GIS, keeping the information in the system current is critical to ensuring that advantage is maintained. Integrating a geographic component into the overall emergency operations plan for a community can help to ensure that any status updates to an incident are inputted into the GIS system and, thereby, reflected in any mapping products that are produced.
Adding spatial context to an emergency event, and having the ability to track how the event is changing and affecting the community residents, is a powerful tool for local government in determining how to respond. It also provides a means for information provided from the field to be visually filtered to allow critical information to be easily processed and prioritized. Having a robust GIS system in place to assist with the information management of an emergency event improves the effectiveness of the local government staff and provides a vital tool for sharing critical information across all departments.