Susan Cutter, a geography professor at the University of South Carolina, discusses the use of GIS in emergency management and the a€?why of the wherea€™ when working with maps. A screen shot of Esria€™s impact summary map for the Napa, Calif., earthquake that struck on Aug. What has been the evolution of hazard mapping in the United States, and how does that compare with what is being done in other countries? Besides mapping hazards — such as flood zones, seismic areas and the like — how else do you see a GIS map being useful to emergency managers?
The best thing that emergency managers can do is identify local partners who could assist with mapping and analysis needs.
Social data from social media is currently used to disseminate messages and information from emergency management in a top-down approach.
The choice of software will be a function of the resources and expertise that is locally available.
Mobile technology like smartphones and tablets along with higher connection speeds are revolutionizing how we access data. Social media continues to increase in the way it is being used to impact people's daily lives. You have provided some good advice as to how to use GIS to improve emergency management programs.
It is important to me personally and professionally that research be used to improve the human condition by being relevant, useful to practitioners and providing the empirical basis for sound public policies.
Eric Holdeman is a contributing writer for Emergency Management and is the former director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.
Cutter is a Carolina Distinguished professor of geography at the University of South Carolina where she directs the Hazards and Vulnerability Research Institute. If you don’t have a dedicated GIS person, it may not make sense to have the full complement of Esri software.
What impact do you see this having on computer mapping, its use and how we can adapt that to emergency management purposes?


For example, we now collect field data on recovery using iPads and directly upload data to the cloud and our servers at the university.
What general uses for mapping can be applied to leverage social media use by average citizens that might benefit community resilience? Currently we can, as an example, look at Twitter and see what is being said and (more importantly) where tweets are coming from on the ground. What mistakes have you seen people make in using GIS in emergency management, and what should we do to avoid them?
Just because you can use the GIS software, doesn’t mean you understand the fundamental nature of spatial (or geographic) relationships. White and his insistence that we map not only where the hazards are, but where people live and work relative to the risks, what he called the human occupance of hazardous areas. GIS can be used for situational awareness, for identifying ideal locations for prepositioning assets ahead of an impact, for understanding the relationship between hazard exposure and social vulnerability as part of the hazard mitigation planning process.
One place to start that is specific to hazard assessment would be the local or state HAZUS user’s group, which would likely include qualified and interested geospatial experts focused on hazards. The former is used to assess the location of vulnerable and special needs populations within a community.
This technology not only cuts down on processing time (and errors) but it also means we can generate maps much more quickly.
Maps of the tweets and content provide a better picture of the situational awareness, impacts and citizen status in a truly ground-up rather than top-down approach. Once they see the map, emergency managers need to ask additional questions as to why (or what I like to call, the why of the where). Hazard mapping has evolved hand-in-hand with the understanding that we can never truly control nature. GIS models and simulation capabilities enable decision-makers to both exercise response and recovery plans during non-disaster times and also understand near real-time possibilities during an event.
The other option is to work through the local planning departments and county councils of government.


Knowing about the landscape of this social vulnerability helps to identify which populations may need assistance in preparing for, responding to and recovering from events. On the other hand, Web-mapping, mobile data collection and analysis, and desktop modeling using Esri software is now approachable and very useful for the less than hard core GIS users, like myself. Real-time damage data could be collected using this method post-disaster, meaning that detailed preliminary damage assessments can be produced in hours, not days. The map shows the distribution of shelters and occupancy, for example, but a further question is why are some shelters over-subscribed while others are not? Mapping has shifted from a focus on the event itself (modeling physical processes) toward a focus on understanding interactions between people and the environment. Essentially, if you have data, it can be mapped, analyzed and utilized to make better decisions in a measureable amount of time. Rather than focusing on the master planning process, work with them on emergency management topics such as hazard mitigation and risk assessment. The key is identifying people who are willing to work together for a common goal and take it from there. Add in citizen sensor data from social media and the possibilities of crowdsourced damage and recovery information becomes a reality. Also GIS personnel should become aware of the pitfalls of using certain classification or symbolization schemes so as to avoid misrepresenting data or displaying data out of context. If there is willingness to work together for the betterment of the state, mechanisms can be found to formalize collaborations.



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