October 7, 2005 -- Redlands, California—The Red Cross is using geographic information system (GIS) technology from ESRI for relief efforts following hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Computer mapping, spatial analysis, and GIS Web services have assisted the agency in providing communities and displaced people with food, clothing, shelter, and other essential services. GIS technology has helped support senior-level staff at its headquarters in Washington, D.C., as well as staff operating at local forward command centers, whether setting up shelters, hotel housing, emotional support programs, or providing meals.
“We use GIS at the Red Cross to provide information to senior executives who use maps to make better, more informed decisions,” says Greg Tune, lead program manager for disaster assessment and GIS, Red Cross. “The types of work we do using GIS would have been very slow-moving without the technology. What would have involved fold-out paper maps and post-it notes is now a fully automated, constantly updated process. Perhaps most important, the kinds of mapping and analysis we do can be targeted based on need or request. We are more responsive and effective because of the technology.”
“Using GIS technology, the Red Cross was able to better plan prior to hurricanes Katrina and Rita as well as respond with greater flexibility and precision after the events occurred,” says Eric Maier, ESRI commercial account manager. “ESRI deployed resources to help generate maps and data on wind fields, damaged areas, populations, city infrastructure, streets, and more. This information was provided to Red Cross managers, directors, and senior leadership who make decisions and carry out strategic planning.”
ESRI provided on-site staff and resources from its Washington, D.C., office to quickly expand and extend the existing Red Cross GIS platform. In addition, ESRI specialists at the Redlands, California, headquarters worked closely with Red Cross personnel to develop a Shelter Locator ArcWeb Services application that provides information such as address, capacity, population, and other descriptors available to both internal Red Cross staff as well as the public.
General mapping and GIS support included maps used for preplanning and response. Personnel, equipment, supplies, and other resources were strategically placed and planned for using GIS-generated maps prior to hurricanes Katrina and Rita making landfall. This included identifying counties at risk and counties that would serve as host sites for shelters, supply centers, and other forward operating facilities. As the hurricane barreled over land, work was done on the fly using ESRI’s ArcGIS Desktop software to calculate exactly what was happening at various locations. Postevent response included damage assessments; GIS-generated hurricane wind field maps; and maps, charts, and reports depicting the number of people impacted by the hurricane including displaced people. The high volume and demand for maps and GIS analysis resulted in thousands of maps being generated and used throughout the Red Cross.
GIS had been deployed by the Red Cross prior to the impact of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, aiding in its ongoing planning sessions and thousands of relief operations the organization responds to every year. GIS helped the Red Cross map potential shelters and Red Cross jurisdictions and identify potential hurricane risk and host counties among its network of more than 800 chapters. Once identified, the Red Cross could then better work with local governments and emergency management in planning sessions that ultimately helped in its hurricanes Katrina and Rita response and will help in other future events.
In addition, a separate Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita Web mapping application using ArcIMS was implemented for internal use by Red Cross chapters and staff in the field to view all types of information in customized digital map form. Red Cross users can log on to the site and select map layers for shelters, kitchens, damaged and flooded areas, affected ZIP Codes, and evacuee hotels. Data is provided for various dates, so users can view information within a temporal context and track the hurricane impact over time. Viewers can pan, zoom, identify items, and select specific information they would like to map.