The devastating impacts of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, which hit the U.S. in the second half of this year, will not be fixed overnight. Recovery efforts will last months in some affected areas and years in others. What I find encouraging in the wake of such destruction is the significant role geospatial tools are playing to support recovery efforts.
I recently covered the post-hurricane collaboration of geospatial vendors and service providers in a feature article for POB. I went into the reporting of that story with response and recovery in mind, but I soon realized that demand for geospatial solutions extends far beyond disaster aftermath.
Ryan Lanclos, public safety industry team lead with Esri, explained to me that it is a matter of "disaster management," highlighting the value of geospatial solutions not just after disaster strikes, but before it touches down and while it is approaching. He drove home the importance of integrating geospatial technology into mitigation planning for everything from hurricanes to forest fires to flooding.
I want to help drive that message home; geospatial professionals should be thinking not just about reaction, but about preparation. Yes, demand for things like aerial and terrestrial imagery, along with GIS software solutions, tends to rise in the wake of ruin. Those solutions are essential for tracking the extent of damage and the location of it. But they can be put to work on ordinary days as well.
Geospatial data helps assess vulnerability to hazards; take floodplain mapping. It also helps provide a baseline picture. Nearmap, for example, captures aerial data year round, which offers up pre-disaster imagery that can be compared to post-disaster imagery. Before and after data is crucial in determining just how much a given area was impacted.
"Last year when the hurricane came through Charleston [S.C.] ... In some cases, you could see roof damage prior to the hurricane and there was the same roof damage after," says Sean Kelly, director of U.S. survey operations at Nearmap. "So you're able to look at it six months ago and say, 'You already had that roof damage. You can't file a claim saying the hurricane did this.' I think that's pretty valuable."
As we head into a new year, I think it is important for the geospatial community to recognize — with hurricane response support as just one example — the important role it plays in solving real-world problems. While the work geospatial professionals do and the technology geospatial developers make are quite technical, their ultimate impact is very human and practical.
Speaking of practical, the idea of preparation and not just reaction can be applied to many areas of our work and personal lives. So can the idea of looking at the whole picture as opposed to one or a few pieces of it. None of us know what the new year will bring, whether we're talking about technological advancements, economic health, disaster events, etc. In any case, we will all have to react to what takes place, but we ought to to what we can to prepare for the range of possibilities. It will only strengthen us as people and professionals.