In the world of emergency management, it is important to know who and what is, or potentially could be, impacted by a disaster. The Center for GIS at Towson University recently developed a new Impact Analysis Tool for the Maryland Emergency Management Agency’s (MEMA).

This tool provides on-the-fly analysis to users of MEMA’s current interactive web mapping application, OSPREY.

A Critical Role in Emergency Management

MEMA has worked to leverage specific spatial data provided and cross reference it with areas impacted by disaster, giving response and recovery operations the ability to generally find out who and what is in the affected areas. The new Impact Analysis Tool is designed to not only enhance GIS personnel’s analytical capabilities but to enable all OSPREY users a way to obtain an understanding of the impact from an event, such as a tornado or flooding, quickly and with an intuitive workflow.

Maryland’s Department of Information Technology’s Senior GIS Analyst assigned to MEMA, Will Melville, says, “Taking critical analysis usually only performed by GIS specialists and placing it into an intuitive package for decision makers and emergency managers across the State will help Maryland respond and recover more efficiently.”

The idea for this tool germinated from the need to provide quick and actionable information to emergency management personnel during the biennial Calvert Cliffs Functional Exercise (CALVEX) in September 2017. One aspect of this full-scale emergency preparedness exercise called for state agencies and local jurisdictions to demonstrate their ability to implement emergency response plans to impacted areas due to a simulated radiological release. These agencies and jurisdictions needed to know what and who would be impacted; the kinds of questions that the Impact Analysis Tool was designed to answer.

Using the Impact Analysis Tool

The Impact Analysis Tool has two main components:

  • A main “default” impacted area layer
  • “Themes,” or sets of related GIS layers grouped together by a particular interest or entity

The “default” impacted area is a feature service layer that depicts the area affected and is configured by MEMA GIS staff. An example of this would be if a category 4 hurricane was hours away from landfall in Maryland, the default layer would be configured to zoom to and select a probabilistic storm surge layer from the National Hurricane Center. Once selected, the tool searches for any features (points, lines, or polygons) that intersects the impacted area for each of the layers in each theme, including a PDF report detailing the demographics of the area.

Users are not only limited to the predefined impacted area however. The Impact Analysis Tool allows users to select and set any layer loaded to their map or manually draw an area to run the same analyses. A perfect use case for this feature would be if the state had experienced widespread power outages (think the derecho in 2012), emergency management personnel could set and run the analyses on the hardest hit zip codes using MEMA’s real-time zip code power outage layer.

Leveraging geospatial data is critical for emergency response teams. Towson University Center for GIS recently created an Impact Analysis Tool for the Maryland Emergency Management Agency that provides on-the-fly analysis to first responders so they are better able to understand who and what are in affected areas.

Knowing who and what is affected by an emergency is a critical piece to the emergency management field. Whether a user from a local jurisdiction is using the Impact Analysis Tool prior to a disaster occurring to developing emergency plans for a particular area in the jurisdiction, or whether a user from the Department of Health needs to determine which facilities are located within a public water outage area, the tool can deliver the actionable data needed to better inform decisions.