Response: Multi-disciplinary Coordination & Data Sharing

“GIS maps and analysis help transform data into useful information,” says Joe Mangiameli, (OCFA). “GIS helps commanders and others quickly assess information integrated and rendered visually in a map for better decision making.”

GIS is an especially useful tool for sharing information among multiple participants and disciplines when a large disaster strikes. When GIS data is well organized, it can become an ideal platform for understanding the scope of an emergency and developing appropriate action plans and communications strategies for an effective response. GIS can provide a snapshot of overall incident status by integrating many different sources of data and instantly provide answers to important questions like: how many acres are involved? How many people live in the impacted area? Where are my closest resources? How likely is it that adjacent areas will become at risk? In a large emergency, the answers to these questions often require gathering data from areas that overlap jurisdictional boundaries, and the answers can provide important guidance to personnel from responding agencies in health, law enforcement, fire, rescue, and EMS.

To provide GIS support for large-scale, regional emergency events, planning and coordination must occur prior to the event. Good data management, the use of appropriate IT and GIS standards, and the adoption of standard operating procedures are all important aspects of this planning and coordination. This may sound like a lot of effort, and it can be, but with visionary leadership and strong governance it can be done. As public safety agencies in southern California have come to appreciate, the benefits of having a strong GIS support team during a large emergency incident make the effort more than worthwhile.

Southern California has a long history of strong leadership when it comes to coordinating response to large-scale emergency events. Public safety practitioners throughout Southern California are regularly called to respond to large-scale events such as wildfires, mudslides, and earthquakes. The strong governance structure which has evolved over the years to support coordinated response to these kinds of events has created an ideal environment for extending that structure to collaborate on development of data management and data sharing practices as well. Natural and man-made disasters can wreak widespread havoc, ignore political boundaries, and demand the attention and coordination of multiple disciplines and organizations. When these disasters strike, ready and appropriate access to GIS resources is an important key to effective coordinated response. It is through a rich history of coordinated response, long-term strategic investments in GIS data management and a robust GIS solutions environment that several of the jurisdictions in Southern California are particularly well positioned to exploit these existing GIS assets to the collective benefit of their constituents.

This example draws from the adjacent jurisdictions of San Diego, Orange County, and L.A. City. It describes the approach public safety and GIS support teams are using to develop a shared, coordinated GIS support capacity in times of large-scale, unplanned emergency events. Each of these jurisdictions has invested in enterprise data management strategies that are now paying collaborative dividends in ways that would not have been possible 10 years ago. Public safety practitioners in these jurisdictions are working in earnest with their GIS counterparts to design governance, data management protocols, and common operating procedures to leverage these strategic investments to unleash the power of GIS in mobile command environments, in helicopters, in data fusion centers, and on the ground throughout the region.

This is not about a shiny new object the GIS community has invented or discovered. Rather, it describes a process—an evolution of sorts, that is occurring in public safety communities of practice across the nation. It is about the data consumption requirements of public safety practitioners who have one of the most important jobs in our communities, and whose requirements to consume that data can become critical, almost instantly, in the most challenging environment a GIS professional can face. This community of practice is a microcosm of many such communities beginning to emerge organically across the U.S.

Benefits of multijurisdictional data sharing include

  • Improved regional planning, risk mitigation, and resource management before, during, and after emergencies with regional impact
  • Providing incident commanders with a shared view of the problem
  • Better coordination among disciplines
  • Streamlining and elimination of redundant activities
  • Better information, leading to better decisions
 Field Operations Guide for Data Sharing and Coodination

Learn more about data, skills, software, and procedures needed to perform [PDF].


Next: RecoveryPrevious: Preparedness