Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for Disaster Management

This is the companion website for the book Geographic Information Systems for Disaster Management (second edition) by Brian Tomaszewski. Ph.D. On this website, you will find supplemental material from the book that includes lecture slides from the chapters, links to video tutorials of the book's technical exercises, and free datasets to download for use with technical exercises. Below you will also find excerpts from the book as well as resources related to coronavirus mapping.

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Additional Resources: Coronavirus Mapping

The world is experiencing one of the worst global pandemics in over a century due to the novel coronavirus disease that was first identified in 2019 and as is more commonly known as ‘COVID-19’. COVID-19 is demonstrating the need for mapping and GIS more than as ever – especially mapping COVID-19 cases at more local scale and for monitoring as COVID-19 response transitions into longer term recovery. For resources on learning how to map COVID-19 specifically, click here.

Learn how to make Coronavirus Maps:

Learn how to make Coronavirus Dashboards:

Additional Resources: Book Excerpts

Book Excerpt: What is GIS? (Chapter 3)

A GIS is generally considered to be composed of the following interrelated parts:

  1. Software: used for running GIS operations like commercial GIS software packages such as Esri’s ArcGIS Pro or open source web mapping environments such as Leaftlet.
  2. Hardware: the platform in which software is run and/or data is stored (traditional PCs to smartphones to drones to massive cloud computing infrastructures)
  3. People: who work with GIS in a variety of capacities such as using GIS to make decisions and analysis.
  4. Knowledge: the variety of training, education, skills, and experience that are applicable to GIS such as cartography, spatial analysis, and spatial perspectives on how these and other ideas are applied to disaster management domain.
  5. Data: more important component of a GIS. Representation of the earth’s features, which is the conceptual core of GIS,is fundamentally based on data.
  6. Network: connects all the other parts together. For example, the internet that connects people to GIS data websites or connecting GIS software with web-based data services or social networks that connect people who use GIS with one another through things like GIS user communities.

For an introduction to GIS software, see:

Book Excerpt: GIS and Geographical Context (Chapter 1)

GISs have evolved into critical decision support and information management devices for all aspects of disaster management. This support and information management role comes primarily, although not exclusively, through the ability of a GIS to represent certain aspects of a disaster situation via maps. Maps in general have a long standing role in disaster management – long before development of computerized GIS and digital data in general. As in many domains such as engineering, urban planning and the military, maps serve a fundamental purpose for understanding the geographical context of a disaster. The geographical context of a disaster can be thought of much like a news reporter asking for the basic “who, what, where, why, and how” aspects a disaster situation.

  1. Who is impacted by the disaster? such as maps created from census data that visualizes population characteristics.
  2. What is happening in a disaster?; What is the extent of the flood?; What is the status of the movement of relief supplies?
  3. Where is the most fundemental question addressed by maps; Where are buildings damaged?; Where are roads open for evacuation?; Where are the areas that are most susceptible to flooding impact?
  4. Why questions can involve map use in disaster management are at a much deeper level: Why were the impacts from a disaster greater in one area compared to another?; Why was recovery in one area slower than in other area?
  5. How questions can also involve map use in disaster management are at a much deeper level: How did an area become vulnerable to a disaster? How can the physical environment best be mitigated against a natural hazard?

Book Excerpt: Developing a GIS for Disaster Management Career (Chapter 10)

The following points are career advice from disaster management practitioners from government, private sector, academia, as well as some of my own advice based on working with GIS students interested in disaster management:

  1. Be interdisciplinary: study a wide range of topics such GIS, remote sensing, disaster management, information technology, computer programming (Python and Javascript are particularly relevant) and any other disciplines relevant to your specific disaster management interest.
  2. Be open-minded: be flexible with opportunities that present themselves. Given the diversity of GIS for disaster management, you never know when some aspect of disaster management or GIS you never considered could become a great career opportunity.
  3. Get involved: volunteer with emergency management opportunities like FEMA or the Red Cross or technical groups like GISCorps. Disaster management is an active, vibrant field that requires real experience to become knowledgeable. Another thing to consider is how involved you would like to get in the field of GIS for disaster management? For example if you would like to get a job as a field technician with a group like FEMA, you have to consider things like being away from home on 24-hour notice, the stress of being in disaster situations and other things that may be outside your comfort zone.
  4. Stand out and go the extra distance: more related to learning GIS, go beyond learning out-of-the-box GIS skills. Learn skills like computer programming, web development, and database management. GIS itself is very interdisciplinary. Many people take classes on how to use GIS itself but fewer learn additional Information Technology (IT) skills that can create synergy with GIS.

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