One of the most important but least enjoyable aspects of any government operation is disaster recovery. The sheer amount of information required to make effective strides toward helping residents and businesses clear the literal and proverbial rubble can be staggering. Add to the equation the chaos, confusion and tension that surrounds natural disasters and the task can seem positively Herculean.
This is why it's crucial that governments use every tool at their disposal to manage their assets as efficiently as possible, maximizing recovery efforts and minimizing confusion and wasted effort. Fortunately, GIS offers a bevy of benefits for public works officials who need a leg up when it comes to cleaning up after a crisis.
Data where you need it
The location-based information provided by GIS can be invaluable in rescue and recovery operations. For example, American City & County recalled an Alabama tornado that killed dozens of people. As part of the disaster response, public works officials worked closely with rescue workers using GIS-enabled smartphones. This enabled officials to gather critical information on which types of buildings were residential versus commercial, thus directing the rescue efforts.
The real-time capability of GIS software is useful for field crews as well. Oftentimes, a disaster can destroy streets or bridges, rendering basic maps ineffective. However, with real-time updates via GIS, it's now possible for rescue crews to be notified of such detours automatically, greatly improving response time in these critical situations.
Particularly following a natural disaster, public works departments can be inundated with repair tasks, making management of who needs to be where and when can be a full-time job in itself. This is yet another process that GIS can streamline. By providing officials with geographically oriented damage reports, including data on the extent of the infrastructure damage, maintenance teams can act more effectively. This is especially important when underground infrastructure such as water pipes are damaged, as it can be easier to literally overlook this kind of less obvious damage.
Similarly, GIS can also make reporting and post-repair documentation more efficient, providing officials with in-depth data not just on where repairs were carried out, but the extent of the job as well.
A government's ability to effectively respond to a crisis depends largely on its asset management abilities. With limited resources, there's virtually no room for error when it comes to allocating personnel and equipment to various areas that have been affected by a natural disaster. For example, not only is sending two repair crews to the same job site out of error wasteful and redundant, but it can also mean that other neighborhoods in need aren't getting the help that they require.
GIS allows officials to monitor which assets are where. This greatly reduces the confusion involved with coordinating multiple recovery efforts across different locations. In terms of long-term planning, GIS can play an important role in predictive maintenance models. By seeing which areas have received work, as well as when and how often, it can be easier for officials to make accurate predictions regarding infrastructure repair or replacement, such as roads.