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Successful Response Starts with a Map: Improving Geospatial Support for Disaster Management
impossible to imagine the chaos that would result if first responders were entirely unfamiliar with an area and had none of the geospatial information—maps, GPS coordinates, images—that is so essential to effective emergency management.
Massive investments have been made in geospatial data and tools over the past few decades in many areas of human activity, but the special and specific needs of emergency management—rapid operational capability and access to data, extensive planning, training of first responders, and tools that work under the difficult circumstances of search and rescue—have rarely been addressed. The committee found that while enormous amounts of data relevant and indeed essential to emergency management exist, they are frequently scattered among multiple jurisdictions, in disparate and often incompatible formats. Numerous impediments exist to data sharing, including lack of interoperability at many levels, lack of knowledge about what data exist and where, restrictions on use, lack of training on the part of users, concerns about data security, and lack of operational infrastructure in the immediate aftermath of disaster.
This report makes 12 recommendations. The first reflects the committee’s central conclusion and urges that the role of geospatial data and tools should be recognized in relevant emergency management policy documents, directives, and procedures (Chapter 4):
RECOMMENDATION 1: The role of geospatial data and toolsshould be addressed explicitly by the responsible agency in strategic planning documents at all levels, including the National Response Plan, the National Incident Management System, the TargetCapabilities List, and other pertinent plans, procedures, and policies (including future Homeland Security Presidential Directives).Geospatial procedures and plans developed for all but the smallestof emergencies should be multiagency, involving all local, state, andfederal agencies and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) thatmight participate in such events.
In the early 1990s a new effort to coordinate the production, distribution, and use of geospatial data began under the rubric of the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI). Standards have been developed and implemented, clearinghouses have been built and access portals deployed, and today the NSDI provides a coherent framework for the sharing of geospatial data. To date, however, the special needs of emergency management have not been recognized as fully as the committee considers desirable, and emergency management is only weakly represented within the NSDI’s existing governance structure. Accordingly, the committee’s second and third recommendations seek to strengthen the NSDI as a framework for the effective sharing of geospatial data for emergency man-