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Role of Geospatial Techniques in Incident Command System
for Disaster Management
Amarjeet Kaur, Tarun Ghawana, Sisi Zlatanova, Nakul Tarun, K. K. Aggarwal
Background
During 1970’s, US agencies identified several recurring problems in their multi-agency response
during a disaster event. It includes non-standard terminology, lack of structure for coordinated
planning between agencies, inadequate & incompatible communications and lack of designated
facilities such as from where to operate or where to store the material etc.
Growing need for multi-agency & multi-functional involvement in incidents / emergencies has
increased the need for a single standard management system that can be used by all emergency
responding agencies (LBSNAA, 2005).
Incident Command System and Incident Response System
Incident Command System (ICS) is a framework, which makes use of management concepts
such as unified command indicating clear line of authority, organizational flexibility for different
scale of emergencies, standard terminology for better communications, resource management
procedures for efficient use and systematic guidelines for an effective incident response
(LBSNAA, 2005).
In Indian context, ICS has been changed to Incident Response System (IRS). IRS is a mechanism
which reduces adhocism in response through a well conceived team. It is a flexible system and
only those Sections / Branches may be activated in the team which is required to meet the
disaster situation. Main features of IRS include Management by objectives & Incident Action
Plan, Resource Management, Common Terminology and Chain of Command etc. (Sinha J.K.)
Geospatial Technologies for ICS
Spatial science based GIS technologies can play a significant role in the operations performed by
Integrated Command System during a disaster event.
Geospatial technology is used throughout the operations supporting response, recovery,
mitigation, preparedness, and prevention efforts. The missions reflected in these efforts include
the saving of lives and property, the provision of food and shelter, financial assistance, damage
assessments, and recovery. With coordination and a strategy for resource use, geospatial
technology can be more effective in meeting the requirements of any incident
(Geoplatform).These technologies can maintain information on resources to be used during such
event. GIS systems can be used to compile check-in information and then be maintained to
reflect current resource status and location (LBSNAA, 2005).
An example of usage of this technology can be seen in the geospatial application system
‘Incident Command GIS’ developed by a commercial entity SuperGeo Technologies for Taipei
City Government. Incident Command GIS is the professional system which perfectly integrates
various disaster rescue information, and allows officers to create, manage and publish various
types of maps and rescue resources. With the GIS solution, the Fire Department commanders in
Taipei City Government can timely make better rescue decisions to save lives and properties
(GISresources).
Another such examples are Eagle One or Cedric developed and employed in different safety
regions in the Netherlands. They provide tools and interfaces to create common operational
picture to support communication between responders and sharing of information. They are
based on the so called net-centric way of working, meaning that data are stored on different
servers but access is ensure to all and from nodes of the network.
Generally, many system are developed all over the world for different purposes: simulation,
monitoring, early warning, visualization and simulation. They are based not only on state-of-the-
art technologies in GIS, but also image and video processing, computer graphics, human
machine interfaces, communications, gaming, etc. (Zlatanova and Fabbri 2009). Due to
importance of location, most of the systems use vector digital maps, raster maps, images (aerial,
satellite, range, radar, etc.), three-dimensional models as background and for simulation and
forecasting. The diversity of systems is extremely high. There are systems devoted to a particular
disaster type (e.g., fire, flood, avalanches, etc.), others to a group of responders (e.g., fire
brigade, ambulance, police, Red Cross), to a particular activity (e.g., early warning, evacuation,
following patients to hospitals, etc.).
The types of systems can be subdivided in two large groups: scenario-based and on-demand-
based systems. Scenario-based systems usually concentrate on a specific hazard problem (flood,
landslide, etc.). They integrate monitoring, alert, simulation and prediction models, i.e. they have
a significant dynamic component combined with the spatial dimension. The notion of a scenario
integrates both the pattern of stresses and the behaviour of a model of a physical/environmental
system submitted to external pressures. The data and the interfaces are dedicated to the type of
scenario.
In contrast, on-demand systems are highly dependent on the dynamics of disaster and therefore
difficult to predict the needed information. Such systems have to fulfil two premises: ensure
supply of sufficient data from the field and discover, access and fetch the most appropriate data
from existing sources of information. Typically the information is scattered among many
sources, with different representation, semantics, accuracy and dimension. Finding, integrating
and analysing of these data is still problematic.
Regardless what kind of system is needed, the need of geographical information is apparent
(Friedrich and Zlatanova, 2013).
To analyze the role of geospatial technologies for ICS, we have elaborated the support provided
by these technologies in the context of:
Clear line of authority, (well-defined responsibilities)
Organizational flexibility for different scale of emergencies, (well-defined semantics)
Standard terminology for better communications,
Resource management procedures for efficient use
In an integrated format, a spatial system addressing these contexts using different spatial data,
non-spatial data and management concepts, could work effectively as a Spatial Decision Support
System (SDSS). The different contexts of ICS could take a shape of SDSS.
A. Clear Line of Authority
A web-based or LAN based ICS using geospatial technologies can be an effective tool to
define the clear line authority among the chain of command during a disaster event. An
authorization based access to ICS can give responsibility based access to information needed,
resources mobilization and management, monitoring the response and taking the correctional
measures if needed.
The figure 1 shows the logical flow of an example of authorization based access for various
level of authorities. At the highest level of command / authority, we get an integrated view of
all the components involved in the management of a disaster event. With the further levels of
command, it can be restricted to the responsibility assigned for a particular component.
Figure 1: Authorization based Access to Response Actions
B. Organizational Flexibility for Different Scales of Emergency
Defining the scale of emergency could depend on the spatial scale of disaster event or the
intensity of the disaster impact in the affected area. GIS based ICS can easily take a multi-
criteria informed decision for the level of involvement of organization about responding
towards the emergency situation. This can be achieved by analyzing real-time status of
different spatial layers and their associated data such as landcover, terrain, water supply
networks, QRT centres, emergency vehicle routes, health centers, spatial spread of disaster,
other assets locations.
For example in the Netherlands, 4 levels of emergency are specified (Zlatanova, 2010),
which reflect the impact of the affected area but also the number of emergency response units
which have to be involved in the incident management. Having well-specified tasks and
Level 4
Level 3
Level 2
Level 1
Authority Levels
Multi
Component
Management
Multi
Component
Operations
Multi
Component
Monitoring
Required
Correctional
Measures
Multi
Component
Operations
Multi
Component
Management
Multi
Component
Monitoring
Multi
Component
Operations
Multi
Component
Management
Single Component
Operations &
Management
WEB / LAN based Spatial Decision Support System
responsibilities is promise for identifying needed geo-information and the manner it should
be provided to the responders. The levels of involvement as per disaster scale could be seen
in Figure 2.
Figure 2: Organizational Flexibility to respond as per emergency scale
C. Standard Terminology for Better Communications
In the armed forces, mostly it is a standard while communicating between the command
centre and the field operatives to use word ‘Yes’ for a positive answer and to use word ‘Not
Clear’ instead of word ‘No’ for a negative answer during a field operation. This
standardization of communication avoids any possibility which can lead to the confusion
between the words ‘Noand ‘Go’ due to human error and thus causing a disaster during an
emergency. The above example shows the need to have a standard terminology for better
communications between a command center and the field operatives during a disaster event.
The standardization or uniformity in data creation, preparation and maintenance could lead to
Level 4
Level 3
Level 2
Level 1
Authority Levels
T
o
p
T
o
B
o
tt
o
m
DISASTER SCALE
avoid occurrence of mistakes in response or avoid unnecessary delay or inefficiency in
resource usage and management in such conditions.
Among the GIS community, it is a common practice to use standard terminologies like
elevation data is used either in the discrete data format of Contour and spot heights or
continuous surface format of Digital Elevation Model (DEM). Similarly while creating the
attribute data, it allows to pre-decide the data value options for TEXT data format. This
avoids multiple forms of data entry for the same name, place or object due to spelling
differences. An example could be the surname ‘Agarwal’ which could be entered with
different spellings ‘Aggarwal’ or ‘Agaarwal’ or instead of ‘Bangalore’, it could be
‘Bengaluru’ or ‘Bengalore’ etc. In case of numbers, 10 are different from 10.00 (Integer and
Float Data Formats). The practice of creating spatial data infrastructure on national and state
level is also based on the standardization of terminologies. In fact there is a dedicated
terminology to match different terms in different themes having the similar meaning which is
called ‘Ontology’ and software are developed to provide such services. One of the most
popular ontology software is Protégé which is a free, open-source platform that provides a
growing user community with a suite of tools to construct domain models and knowledge-
based applications with ontologies(Gang Cheng et al., 2008). Ontology can play an important
role in semantic formalization, interoperation and integration in both geospatial data and
services (Ontology and GIS).
The standardization benefits immensely when we need to do a query (spatial or non-spatial)
to filter out the information to be extracted quickly for further decision making in an
emergency situation. The query could be a spatial query like how many fire stations are
located within 10 kilometers of a fire incident? Or a non-spatial data query like what is the
average age of victims drowned during flooding?
In most of the cases when disaster happens, many maps reflecting the status of the
emergency response need to be prepared by local and international authorities. Presently the
content and the presentation of these maps is not standardized. However standardization
approach is needed there as well. The Geographical international societies have worked for
more than two year on a project investigating which products and systems are most
appropriate for a specific type of disasters. Questionnaires were sent to all parts of the world
to investigate which the most appealing hazards per region are. Then for the first 10 disaster
maps products were identified as most valuable. For example it was identified that damage
assessment map, risk map, inundation map, flood risk monitoring map and recovery process
map are most appreciated (and prepared) in case of flood. The content of these maps was
defined and again sent to the user for approval. Details of this investigation is available on-
line here: http://www.un-spider.org/sites/default/files/VALIDPublication.pdf
This approach can be applied for a part of the world, a specific region or a country. Such
investigations can help establishing common understanding about the type of maps and other
products that are needed for hazard monitoring, alert, emergency response and recovery. The
ontology then can be built up for each map content.
D. Resource management procedures for efficient use
Resources whether physical or human are usually spread over a geographical region which
generates a need to manage these resources. To capture the dynamics of spatial relationships
while managing these resources, it becomes essential to use the GIS and Remote Sensing
technologies. These technologies can cover a large area or inaccessible areas in terms of
landcover, terrain, hydroinformatics, infrastructure etc.
During a disaster situation, it is required to manage resources for efficient usage to serve the
most needy on a priority basis which requires certain procedures to be followed in a certain
sequence. The procedures are formulated to help the implementation of priority for the
prepared and response measures involving different resources.
The geospatial technologies help to identify, access, use, store and distribute the resources.
Keeping procedures in view, these technologies could help in deciding to whom the access
has to be given for certain facility during a disaster which could optimize the response time
and effectiveness. It can also help in deciding storage places for equipment as a preparedness
measure.
Conclusion and Recommendations
We conclude that GIS technologies have an important role in ICS where it has to be applied
in context of clear line of authority, standard terminology for better communication,
organizational flexibility for different scales of disaster and resource management procedures
for efficient use. Many systems developed all over the world for different purposes:
simulation, monitoring, early warning, visualization and simulation can work in these
contexts. An authorization based access to ICS can give responsibility based access to
information needed, resources mobilization and management, monitoring the response and
taking the correctional measures if needed. GIS based ICS can easily take a multi-criteria
informed decision for the level of involvement of organization about responding towards the
emergency situation. The standardization or uniformity in data creation, preparation and
maintenance could lead to avoid occurrence of mistakes in response which can be done in
GIS. Keeping procedures in view, these technologies could help in deciding to whom the
access has to be given for certain facility during a disaster which could optimize the response
time and effectiveness.
We recommend to increasingly use the geospatial technologies for planning, visualization,
data capturing, situation analysis, simulation and modeling in disaster management. Unlike
developed countries, for eg. Netherlands, research on application of geospatial technologies
for disaster management is in nascent stage and thus there is a lot of scope to research in
various dimensions of disaster management using such technologies. For gaining a better
understanding of technology based micro-management and how it can be applied in context
of developing countries such as India, we need to have international collaborations between
academia and research institutions of developed and developing world.
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Chapter
There is no doubt about the importance of Geo-ICT in risk and disaster management. Systems that make use of geo-information are used in all activities before, during and after the occurrence of a disaster. In this chapter we address the use of Geo-ICT before and during disasters. Special attention will be given to the use of geo-information, such as risk maps, topographical maps, etc. A brief analysis of current risk maps and of their limitations sets the stage for research that could overcome some of the present unsatisfactory aspects of risk maps. Access to and provision of spatial information is examined with respect to the needs of emergency response systems and the challenges in the use of geo-information for disaster management are discussed. KeywordsEmergency response management
Formal modelling of tasks to support search of geo-information in emergency response
Website: http://www.un-spider.org/sites/default/files/VALIDPublication.pdf • Zlatanova, S., 2010; Formal modelling of tasks to support search of geo-information in emergency response, In: Das (Eds.), International symposium climate change & disaster management, Noida, India: GIS Development Pvt. Ltd., pp. 26-36