2005 Geospatial Workshop: Building Partnerships to Reduce Hazard Risks

April 20, 2005

The Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is bringing together community, college and university leaders from across the Midwest this week to discuss strategies to better utilize the vast resources of geospatial information for disaster mitigation and management.

“We’re bringing together experts in mapping and geospatial information, university partners and educators and emergency managers at the local and state level to better understand the common needs and resources these groups share,” said Michael Buckley, FEMA’s assistant director for Mitigation and a conference speaker. “It’s a unique set of players here, but they all come with the understanding that they can build the partnerships necessary to utilize existing geospatial information to mitigate hazards and respond to disasters when they occur.”

Geospatial information is simply data about the planet we live on presented graphically as on a map. A Geospatial Information System (or GIS) is the backbone system in place to bring together widely different information and present it in a useful way. For example, a community facing a flood can combine data on historic flood patterns, a current storm front and information about critical facilities like hospitals and schools which may be at risk.

“Geographic information is the key to how communities can protect themselves in the face of hazards, but also is the key to how those communities can respond to a hazardous event,” Buckley said.

Clint Brown, director of Software Products for Environmental Systems Research Institute Inc. (ESRI), a developer of GIS software, said local and state use of GIS data systems is a step toward the vision of a national GIS system that is consistent nationwide.

“We’re creating a vision everyone can grasp. What’s going on is a pretty fundamental change. There are now a lot of efforts at coordination,” Brown said. “It’s no longer about (preliminary) work, it’s now about the real delivery of information to the people who need to know it.”

Building strong partnerships for risk reduction efforts between universities and their communities is of immense value, Buckley added. Institutions of higher learning and their surrounding communities depend on each other to prepare for disasters and reduce potential losses of life and property. Universities and colleges can provide the expertise, technical resources, and research support that communities need to improve their resistance to hazards.

At the same time, communities that reduce their vulnerability to hazards and develop strong emergency management plans offer a safer and more secure environment for local colleges and universities, he said.

The workshop, held this week on the campus of Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis, brings together representatives from 20 states, FEMA headquarters, and regional office staff.

Panel sessions and presentations are being held to highlight case studies and best practices implemented by communities, colleges and universities, and state emergency management agencies.

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