Mapping During a Crisis

During times of crisis, communities need to be updated on conditions regularly and consistently. First responders and public officials will need (and contribute) important data that will help those at the epicenter. Crisis mapping as disaster response uses a variety of data sources and channels, including public and crowdsourced information.

Crisis mapping was first used after the devastating earthquake in Haiti in 2010. Responders started with infrastructure mapping and added different types of maps to create a resource that could be used by everyone and anyone.

There are a handful of different tools that can be used during the crisis mapping process:

  • Mobile and web-based apps
  • Participatory maps and crowdsourced event data
  • Aerial and satellite imagery
  • Geospatial tools
  • Advanced data visualization
  • Live simulation
  • Computational and statistical models

As we’ve seen with the COVID-19 pandemic, data comes at us fast and furious. As with all crisis situations, there aren’t instruction manuals for how to manage this data — which is the problem that crisis mapping solves. To create a comprehensive blueprint, there are some steps to take in order to best assess your next moves in real-time.

Track the incidents: Knowing how to mitigate a crisis means getting a comprehensive idea of the current incidents or cases. This big-picture look at how things are unfolding becomes the foundation for resource allocation strategies. Visualizing this data, keeping it updated, and making it accessible to everyone is invaluable.

Check for patterns: Monitor the incidents on a consistent basis to look for patterns that can predict future progression. The more data layers and maps that you add to this stack, the better insight you can gain about proactive steps you can take going forward. Temporal and spatial data can speed up response and decision-making efforts.

Identify vulnerable locations: Check out the geographical data and visualizations to put red flags on the communities that are most vulnerable during the crisis. These are the areas that should be prioritized when resources and responders are limited.

Clarify capacity: Medical emergencies among these vulnerable communities mean increased capacity for care. Maps and geospatial tools utilize data healthcare facilities, care providers, and other clinicians to provide patients with real-time information about wait times, nearby pharmacies, and necessary medical equipment.

While it seems that there’s an abundant volume of data to map during the crises, there remain some barriers that prevent widespread adoption of crisis mapping. Security of sharing this data — even encrypted — is top of mind, as cybercriminals are becoming braver and more sophisticated.

Another risk develops when the data sharing policies and regulations don’t match up within public-private partnerships. Whether the information is classified or just gated by the lack of knowledge to access it, this can be a hurdle to overcome. Cost, collaboration, and interoperability can also slow down the data visualization phase of crisis mapping.

Once those barriers are knocked over, there is a list of benefits. By improving efficiency, geospatial data can help cut costs during a time when aid financing needs to be stretched as far as possible. It’s also a culture- and language-agnostic tool which makes it a universal communication method. Much of the geospatial data out there is open data and free for users to access.

Because many organizations don’t employ a full-time expert on staff, they turn to a partner who can custom tailor a crisis mapping solution that fully leverages geospatial data. A mobile or web-based app delivers timely context that can be shared across industries and organizations. Users out in the field and those in command centers alike can more easily collaborate and even include data from other sources (like social media or news feeds). Above all, the application needs to offer data protection and security.

GIMS is a successful operational solution for high-security web delivery of geospatial information. It’s a web-based platform that puts a world of information at your fingertips, developed by T-Kartor and delivered to The Norwegian Defence in 2015.

As a core solution, it handles all data in a geospatial context, improving the basis for collaboration and information sharing between internal and external organizations. Response time is critical during a crisis and mapping gives leaders and first responders easy access to analytics they need, when they need it.

Get in touch with our team to learn how to apply GIMS to your crisis mapping process and help make data-based decisions confidently.