From climate change to natural disasters, pandemics to man-made disasters, all have impacted millions of people worldwide. India is ranked as the 14th most vulnerable country in the world due to extreme weather-related events. Out of 36 States and Union Territories (UTs) in India, 27 are disaster-prone.
Around the year, India witnesses various weather events such as extremely heavy rainfall, heat and cold waves, snowfall, thunderstorms, dust storms, floods, etc. Such events are a consequence of either natural or man-made factors; both cause high loss of life, property, and infrastructure. According to a report by National Disaster Management Authority, in India, 12% of the total land area is prone to floods; 68% is vulnerable to droughts, landslides, and avalanches, 58.6%of landmass is earthquake-prone, and out of 7,516 km coastline,5,700 km is prone to cyclones.
Today, India has made tremendous progress in forecasting disasters using Geographic Information System (GIS) technology. During the 2019 and 2020 cyclones Hud-Hud, Gaja, Amphan, and Nisarga, GIS played an instrumental role in emergency preparedness through planning and analysis and saved many lives. GIS fosters improved environmental understanding, strategic decision making, monitoring of climate change impact, and ascertaining future risks. The technology has been applied across various sectors including water, agriculture, healthcare, urban planning, among many others.
Agendra Kumar, President, Esri India Technology Pvt Ltd which is into mapping and spatial analytics solutions, says, "In healthcare, GIS supported at the frontline against the global pandemic coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) battle through mapping existing cases, planning quarantine centres and hospital infrastructure capacities, identifying hotspots and vulnerable populations. Now, as the government prepares to roll out the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, GIS real-time spatial mapping and analysis capabilities will play a key role in the efficient distribution.
Mr Kumar further says "GIS provides the ability to add updates from remote locations for incident management and supplies rapid damage assessment and more accurate recovery operations. As rebuilding begins, GIS aids local, state, and central government agencies with technology that supports collaboration between multiple organizations. An enterprise GIS platform that stores and manages all relevant information provides a common operating picture to all the stakeholders."
GIS is an integral part of the disaster management lifecycle; the preparedness stage of the pre-disaster situation followed by during and post-disaster which is attributed to response and recovery and rehabilitation efforts.GIS provides accurate spatial data and insights to disaster response strategies and enables visualization of critical vulnerabilities and damage. This capability of GIS was demonstrated in the Nepal earthquake tragedy in 2015. The technology was applied for guiding emergency responders to affected areas and mapping the impact to coordinate the relief effort.
GIS-based applications inculcated interactive maps showing the earthquake locations, intensity, health facilities, base camps, and damage assessment. Also, the application acted as a common platform for data collection around incident reporting for infrastructure damage or fire and information dissemination to relief workers involved in providing aid to those affected by the devastation.
Preparedness is the key to the success of any disaster management plan and GIS technology is one of the key enablers. Mainstreaming GIS into all the phases of disaster management planning presents an opportunity to better prepare and expedite and magnify the impact of planning and relief efforts through greater efficiency.
During the 1999 Odisha floods, the Odisha State Disaster Management Authority utilized GIS-based satellite-based remote sensing technology for effective management. GIS technology assisted in different phases of the disaster management cycle; starting from identifying locations to construct multipurpose flood shelters and weak points in the embankments to initiate repair. This followed by strengthening and preparedness efforts and grid analysis to set up the Automated Weather Stations (AWS). The process also involved developing district and gram panchayat level vulnerability maps and base maps indicating the location and operation of boats and deployment of rescue personnel.
There is a life cycle to any crisis or disaster. Following the response, the phase is an opportunity to build resilience. Integrating GIS into the disaster management response framework improves the planning process. It allows users to understand the impact of potential damage and further anticipate resource utilization during the emergency. Front-line departments get access to real-time information to rapidly monitor the changing situations and further share up-to-date information with the public and other departments. GIS-based dashboards and live maps provide authoritative data that allows departments to make informed decisions. Response to disaster and emergencies involve the following stages:
A successful prevention plan involves comprehensive planning and analysis to minimize the effects, reduce loss, and a proactive approach to the plan. GIS technology provides the capability to map and analyze all types of hazards to visualize potential impacts. Based on the inputs of impact on infrastructure and population, vulnerabilities can be identified to establish priorities.
The Karnataka State Natural Disaster Monitoring Centre (KSNDMC)uses a GIS dashboard to monitor the rainfall across the state, on a real-time basis, from the data shared by rain sensors installed at various locations. The live data captured is used to predict any potential flooding incidents due to heavy rainfall, identify affected locations, and push advisories through SMS to be potentially impacted areas.
Authorities develop action plans as an effective response to an emergency. With GIS interactive maps, authorities view critical information in layers and make data-driven informed decisions. GIS supports preparedness through a disaster management system that involves visualizing and analyzing risks, modelling and designing mitigation projects, and communicating up-to-date information with other departments to build resilience at all levels.
GIS provides powerful mapping and analytics capability to respond to catastrophic events. It provides advanced tools that maintain situational and operational awareness; quickly analyze the incident impact; assess the damage; deploy resources; and educate, inform, and warn citizens. With GIS tools, authorities can get access to emergency unit locations, shelter population capacities, supply inventories, power, identify locations of public safety resources, and status of the overall situation.
To map and monitor the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases, the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) set up a war room that integrates GIS technology. GIS-based maps, apps, and dashboards displayed real-time data about hospital capacity, ICU beds, ventilators, and date; zone; hospital; age; and gender-wise details daily. The officials directly received access to real-time data from health and police departments for situational analysis, actionable insights, and to further impart information to citizens.
GIS assists in recovery efforts by restoring the affected area to normal. This includes making decisions that address short-term and long-term requirements; such as medical care, shelter, food, rebuilding, reemployment, and the repair of essential infrastructure. GIS also plays an important role in the assessment of damage and losses to further identify priorities for reconstruction and determine actions for various field operations such as first aid and health, transportation routes.
Building resilience through better awareness and preparedness is the need of the hour. Adopting to crisis management life cycle framework boosts efforts towards prevention for what comes next. At a time when every second counts, understanding and decoding the “where” factor is key to prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery.
GIS plays a vital role in addressing risk scenarios; however, its widespread adoption in emergency operations needs to be fully accelerated to ensure the disasters of the future are less catastrophic. With the utilization of GIS technology fostering risk analysis, planning, situational awareness, recovery operations, and enhanced collaboration, disaster response will continue to improve and ultimately provide a better and safer environment for people.