Using GIS to Improve Hurricane Evacuation and Preparedness

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As hurricane season gets underway in the Atlantic, geospatial data, tools, and methods have increasingly been improved and adapted to better prepare communities and property from the devastating effects these weather events cause. Recent research could also better prepare communities for all stages related to hurricane disasters. With hurricanes becoming more powerful in recent years, such tools may become critical for communities in the near future.

Finding Hurricane GIS Datasets

Obtaining relevant hurricane data has become easy for anyone. One could download recent forecast data from the National Hurricane Center website, which provides data on the strength of the hurricane and the area it may affect, and map the data to get information updated daily.[1] Both the Atlantic and Pacific are provided, with the Atlantic generally being more active in hurricanes. Tracking on where a hurricane may move to as well as wind strength can be obtained. The Living Atlas by Esri also provides an online site for hurricane monitoring that provides information on potential direction and relative strength.[2] While this might benefit those interested in forecasting hurricanes, other tools allow most people to get relevant information about hurricanes in a timely manner to aid with evacuation or simply being informed quickly. Some example applications for tracking hurricanes on phones include:  1Weather, Fema’s dedicated app, Hurricane Impact, Hurricane Tracker, SeaStorm, The Weather Channel, and Windy.[3] Google Maps, similar to other environmental phenomena that can threaten life, also now indicates on maps areas with active hurricanes or storms that could become hurricanes. This information also includes projected paths and areas affected.

The National Hurricane Center offers GIS data about current and past hurricanes.  Screenshot from the web page taken September 16, 2020.
The National Hurricane Center offers GIS data about current and past hurricanes. Screenshot from the web page taken September 16, 2020.

Using GIS Data to Improve Hurricane Evacuations

Many improvements have recently been made in relation to improving evacuation from hurricanes using spatial technologies. This includes a recent study that created a web-based application that analyzed Hurricane Dorian in Florida in 2019, which investigated mobile phone data to indicate how people evacuated during the mandatory evacuation order given for that event. The work revealed flaws in evacuation and inefficiencies, including bottle necks and areas where resources could have been better used to evacuate people. Such work highlights that geospatial forecasting for evacuations could be better used to help regions affected by hurricanes to create spatiotemporal solutions that identify the best places to evacuate at a given time, which takes into account the number of people and infrastructure in a given region, as well as indicate resources needed for evacuation.[4]

Emergency Management, Hurricanes, and GIS

Other recent research has attempted to improve community and emergency responses at all stages of a hurricane disaster. This includes before hurricanes make landfall as well as after. In this case, researchers created a computer vision technique that can take satellite and aerial data as well as OpenStreetMap data to determine information such as inland flood prediction, including areas likely to be affected by storm surges, damage assessment, looking at how likely given areas would be damaged by a hurricane, and data visualization of different outputs. An ensemble of mapping tools that incorporate data on water, roads, buildings, and vegetation is used to determine likely impacts and determine damage from post-disaster imagery as well. The tool uses U-Nets, which are convulsion neural networks, to classify damage and disaster assessments. What is potentially powerful for users is the data can be deliver through online maps to provide rapid information dissemination at these different stages.[5]

A framework that uses computer vision and analysis of pre and post event imagery and geospatial data to assess flood damage in  support of natural disaster relief.  Figure: Bosch, Conroy, Ortiz, & Bogden, 2020, https://arxiv.org/abs/2008.07418v2.  Under CC BY 4.0 license.
A framework that uses computer vision and analysis of pre and post event imagery and geospatial data to assess flood damage in support of natural disaster relief. Figure: Bosch, Conroy, Ortiz, & Bogden, 2020, https://arxiv.org/abs/2008.07418v2. Under CC BY 4.0 license.

Current applications and data allow us to monitor hurricanes in near real-time. This is useful for evacuating and preparing communities for potential disasters. However, tools in development potentially offer the possibility to not only aid in evacuation but also in damage assessment and help with all stages relevant to a hurricane event. Increasingly, there have been improvements in mitigating the loss of life from hurricanes; however, with hurricanes becoming more powerful and preparedness including post-disaster recovery, new geospatial tools will likely arrive in the near future to help with all stages of hurricane disasters. This would enable a more complete response and better planning to be made at different stages, rather than mainly focusing on the evacuation stage. 

References

[1]    For more on hurricane information from the National Hurricane Center, see:  https://www.nhc.noaa.gov/gis/.

[2]    For more on the Living Atlas hurricane monitoring, see:  https://livingatlas.arcgis.com/hurricane/.


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[3]    Discussion on some relevant apps for monitoring hurricanes can be found here:  https://www.androidauthority.com/best-hurricane-apps-android-799467/

[4]    For more on the tool created to better forecast and prepare hurricane evacuations, see:  Harper, C., Hogan, B., Wright, B., 2020. Applying Mobile Location Data to Improve Hurricane Evacuation Plans, in: 2020 Systems and Information Engineering Design Symposium (SIEDS). Presented at the 2020 Systems and Information Engineering Design Symposium (SIEDS), IEEE, Charlottesville, VA, USA, pp. 1–6. https://doi.org/10.1109/SIEDS49339.2020.9106669.

[5]    For more on this computer vision tool used for hurricane evacuation and assessment, see:  Bosch, M., Conroy, C., Ortiz, B., Bogden, P., 2020. Improving Emergency Response during Hurricane Season using Computer Vision. arXiv:2008.07418 [cs, eess]. https://arxiv.org/abs/2008.07418v2

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