Utilisation of Open Source Geospatial Technologies for Disaster Preparedness

By: Vinod Kumar Sharma, G Srinivasa Rao and V Bhanumurthy
Being prepared for disasters before they strike entails ensuring that the rescue teams have the necessary equipment, know where to take people from the affected area and, most importantly, how to keep themselves safe so that the rescue operation continues. By implementing geospatial techniques, emergency preparedness and response phase operations can be customised, and ready to use scenarios can be created to provide information on how to alert, prepare and train volunteers for emergencies.
Planning n Mitigation

Each state in India has its disaster preparedness plan and as per the new guidelines of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) even districts have preparedness plans along the lines of state plans. Cyclone Phailin has shown that if local or central agencies are prepared for a disaster before it strikes, loss of life can be drastically minimised. As the preparedness plan has to be executed on the ground, accurate and current information about the terrain is of great importance; for this local surveys need to be conducted to collect ground data, shelter information and much more. As in the case of a flood, people in low lying areas have to be shifted to shelters/hospitals; capacity of shelters, availability of beds and number of hospitals have to be verified on the ground. An exercise utilising geo-informatic technologies (smart phones with GPS/online maps) for database creation of shelters and hospitals has been demonstrated in Puri district of Odisha in 2009 and in Assam in 2010, and transferred to other states for verification and collection of emergency databases. The local data thus gathered can be organised in a format that can be used in emergency situations and geospatial techniques can be effectively used for efficient organisation and usage of the collected data.

Here are some steps which should be followed when a disaster warning is issued. First and foremost, plans have to be well defined, and people have to be trained for handling emergency situations. The lack of preparedness, which includes the unavailability of a database of emergency facilities, roads etc., may result in thousands of lives lost as seen during the Haiti earthquake, 2010, when the hospital and relief shelter database available for managing the rescue and relief operations was limited. Disaster management plans, geospatial tools and techniques like automatic feature extraction using data mining integrated with latest technologies like smart phones, live feed (traffic density and road conditions) are used extensively across the globe to prepare emergency databases. Smart phones with in-built global positioning system (GPS) and camera are widely used for emergency database generation. Local users and volunteers can tag facilities like hospitals, warehouse, relief shelters with facility details, medical equipment and tests available, ambulances on call, contact numbers etc. A detailed emergency database can be generated for each area in this manner to create a relief and rehabilitation matrix.

Geographical data is essential for disaster preparedness; different techniques like ground surveys, aerial surveys, terrestrial maps etc., are available for collecting, studying and analysing this data. Remote sensing datasets can gather maximum information about the ground in a single take. In addition, temporal datasets of the same area can find the differences in development. Various algorithms with geospatial techniques can predict the usage of the land, which can be verified by ground surveys.

Various open source geospatial technologies are the best option for the development of this information system. The huge emergency data can be organised using the powerful object-relational database system like PostgreSQL, which is efficient in handling spatial as well as non-spatial data. Complex spatial queries, like optimal path generation, needed in rescue plans, can be implemented using it. A user friendly graphical user interface, query builder can be developed using open source web technologies like PHP, JQuery, Ajax etc. The developed information system can be hosted on open source servers like Apache. For publishing the huge raster/vector datasets as service, UMN mapserver or geoserver can be used. These web map services (WMS) can be used in the web environment using open source map application programming interface (API) like Openlayers and Bhuvan API.

Taking these benefits into account, the open source community has integrated all these technologies and provided a complete solution to address disaster emergency situations. The National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC), a part of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), has initiated the District Disaster Management Plan Information System (DDMPIS) by customising and integrating different open source technologies under the National Database for Emergency Management (NDEM) programme. Sample datasets of Odisha are used to show the capabilities of DDMPIS (Fig 1). This system is designed to organise the essential database (spatial/non spatial) of a district and provides a solution to disaster management authorities to reduce the impact of a disaster. It has modules to track the needs of populations affected by disasters, and it can also be used for coordinating the responding agencies and their resources.

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Fig. 1: Representation of a district disaster management information system

As different agencies and organisations are involved in disaster management, collaboration and coordination among them is needed during rescue operations. Keeping this in mind a software data submission module is customised which allows organisations to record their offices, warehouses and field sites (with location) for mapping and linking with other resources like human resources, assets and inventory. The different modules like project tracking and human resource management were developed using open source which allows the authorities to know the maximum needs of the agencies involved and to maintain coordination amongst them. The human resource module allows user departments to manage people involved with information about their location, skills etc. This module helps the managers ensure that everyone is effectively engaged with disaster relief work. Separate modules are designed for inventory and asset management. For better planning, various scenarios are created using templates and resources. In the actual emergency situation, volunteers are alerted using various communication media like SMS and emails. All this planning can be done on 2D or 3D domains and reports, graphs and maps can be generated using this module.

The greatest advantage of the information system is that the retrieval of information during a disaster is easy as all the relevant information is already organised in the database. As it is developed using open source technologies, it is an inexpensive and effective solution for managing disasters.


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