EIIP Virtual Forum Presentation – November 19, 2003

GIS Applications in Emergency Management
Contributing to Our Understanding of Hazards

John C. Pine, Ed. D.
Director, Disaster Science and Management Program
and Professor-Research
Department of Environmental Studies
Louisiana State University

Amy Sebring

The following version of the transcript has been edited for easier reading and comprehension. A raw, unedited transcript is available from our archives. See our home page at http://www.emforum.org

[Welcome / Introduction]

Amy Sebring: On behalf of Avagene Moore and myself, welcome to the EIIP Virtual Forum! In honor of GIS Day 2003, our topic today is "GIS Applications in Emergency Management: Contributing to Our Understanding of Hazards." First, I wish to welcome those viewing the session from the IAEM Conference in Orlando, Florida. Avagene is "on remote" from there today. Ava, would you like to say a few words?

Avagene Moore: Thank you, Amy. Hello to you, Dr John Pine and all our EIIP Virtual Forum participants today! I am happy to be coming from the EMEX 2003 in Orlando, Florida. This is a huge successful part of the 2003 Annual Conference of the International Association of Emergency Managers. The number of exhibitors this year has doubled - we have 130 this year. There are about 700 people in attendance at the conference.

It is lunchtime here in the EMEX 2003 Hall and a number of people are gathered to watch the Forum today. I am hoping they will participate and ask questions when we come to the Q&A portion of our program. And now back to you, Amy and John!

Amy Sebring: Thanks Ava. Now, I have the pleasure of introducing today's speaker, Dr. John Pine. Dr. Pine is the Director of the Disaster Science and Management Program in the Department of Environmental Studies at Louisiana State University. He is also a professor and conducts research on topics directly related to emergency management. Beyond pure research, he has provided leadership in implementing practical applications for emergency managers, particularly in the area of emerging desktop technologies.

I am told that he is the 'champion' of the HAZUS-MH program in the state of Louisiana, and has been instrumental in the recently-organized HAZUS Users Group, LOUHUG. Welcome John, and thank you for being with us today. I now turn the floor over to you to start us off please.


John Pine: Welcome everyone to GIS Day!! It is a please to have the opportunity to join you and look at how GIS is impacting emergency management today and may impact us in the future. Many thanks for the invitation - looking forward to a good discussion.

Geographic Information Systems (Sciences) (GIS) has been making a significant contribution to the field of emergency management over the past ten years. Flood, earthquake and hurricane hazards have spurred the development and implementation of modeling and GIS applications for use by the emergency management community. The developments of GIS and modeling complement enhancements to computer resources, from small portable computers to powerful desktop computers.

As an illustration of more powerful GIS hazard applications, FEMA will be releasing their new HAZUS-MH (Hazards United States - Multi Hazards) program. As many of you know, this program will add:

1. Flood Hazards (riverine and coastal flooding);

2. Wind hazards (associated with coastal storms);

3. Other hazards (such as the EPA and NOAA ALOHA air dispersion program)

The first figure shows the opening screen from HAZUS-MH. Note the Earthquake - Wind and Flood on the left side of the image. The ARCGIS application allows you to manage "regions" which can be as large as four counties or as small as a few Census Tracts.

[Slide 1]

(The background picture for the slide is Grandfather MT. in TN.)

ESRI's ARCGIS (with Spatial Analysis) forms the basis for this powerful mapping and modeling application. HAZUS-MH takes advantage of current flooding, earthquake and other modeling efforts supported by the Corps of Engineers, NOAA, and EPA. It makes linking these hazard modeling programs to GIS hassle free and in one application. In the past, many of us have had to run the model and then import the model into a GIS application. HAZUS-MH illustrates how FEMA and other agencies have worked over the past few years to make modeling and mapping of hazards easier for the emergency management community.

The next slide shows an image of East Baton Rouge Parish (county) and the DEM (digital elevation model) for the area. HAZUS-MH helps the user to define a study area and then go to the Internet to obtain required data for input in to the model. The DEM is a 30 meter resolution grid file.

[Slide 2]

Along with developments in the GIS modeling and applications programs such as HAZUS-MH, public and private initiatives have made obtaining GIS data much easier. The DEM image shown in slide #2 was obtained from a USGS Internet site. This site allows the user to define an area and then download many types of GIS data - FREE!!! Please take a look at http://seamless.usgs.gov, the National Map Seamless Data Distribution System from the USGS. By selecting the "View and Order Data Sets - United States Viewer" the user defines an area of interest and the type of data desired. Note at the bottom of the page there are links to specific data sets such as "Urban Areas High Resolution Orthoimagery (1 foot resolution color images - more to come on this).

By developing the USGS National Map Seamless Data Distribution System site - USGS has made obtaining GIS data much easier and cost effective. Further, agencies such as FEMA have coordinated their initiatives making obtaining data for HAZUS-MH much easier than in the past. To stress the point of what USGS has done for us, the image shown in slide #2 was downloaded as one file from this USGS site. It is a combination of over 20 USGS DEM files. USGS has merged these DEM files and corrected any missing data. Further, the USGS has standardized their DEM data set to ensure that all elevations are the same across the United States. Our "hats are off" for the USGS for being a "data champion."

The next slide shows two samples from the "Urban Areas High-Resolution Orthoimagery." Now you may not believe this, but the images on the USGS site are of Baton Rouge and the LSU campus. Note the Parker Coliseum (smaller image) in the lower left side of the larger image.

[Slide 3]

These images have a resolution of 1 foot and area available for over 120 urban areas in the U.S. Since the image files are so large, we have to obtain the files on CD or DVD at a small cost. By the way, USGS charges us for the labor to make the CD and send it to us; they are not charging us for the cost of the flight from which the images were obtained.

These high-resolution images illustrate one of the key developments in GIS. They enhance our ability to characterize hazards and their impacts. HAZUS-MH and other GIS applications utilize high resolution images and DEM (LIDAR) files. Having high quality data is allowing the hazard models and mapping applications to more accurately characterize hazards and their impacts.

Another development in GIS that is important to the emergency management community is the development of national hazards data sets. When you receive HAZUS-MH and open the "box," you will have some great data sets. The next slide shows a list of the data sets included for each state and county.

[Slide 4]

HAZUS-MH includes the Census 2000 data at the Block level, EPA regulated sites (Hazardous Materials), utility systems (waste water, electric etc.), transportation systems (rail, port, bus facilities etc.) high potential loss facilities (dams, nuclear power plans, and military installations), essential facilities (medical, police & fire, and schools), and a national building inventory. The building inventory data set is based on the Census Blocks and includes information on structures:

1. Square footage by building type (residential, commercial, industrial, education, government);

2. Building count by type of structure noted above; and

3. Value of the structures by type.

The data in the building inventory was prepared by Dunn and Bradstreet specifically for FEMA use in HAZUS-MH. This data set allows us to determine the potential impact of a hazard for a local community.

HAZUS-MH also allows the user to add local data that more accurately reflects the characteristics of local buildings (base elevation and type of construction). This next slide provides a sample of the building inventory data set. The figure shows the count of structures by Census Block for different types of structures.

[Slide 5]

There are many other GIS applications - other than HAZUS - but this illustrates the capabilities for our discussion.

I wanted to make one final observation about GIS and emergency management. More local agencies, businesses, and non-profit agencies are using GIS. We need to reach out to other public agencies, private companies, and non-profits to enable them to help us obtain local data sets and to use the outputs of our hazard modeling and mapping applications.

LSU is working with other universities, state and local agencies, and private companies to initiate a GIS - Hazards Web site. Take a look at this site and give us your suggestions:


I am also working with a team of 6 folks to design a GIS Hazards / mapping college course. We will be having a focus group to initiate the project before the end of the year.

FEMA has confirmed that the roll out of HAZUS-MH will be by the end of the year (2003). You can take a look at the capabilities of this multi-hazard utility on the FEMA Web site:


FEMA has identified a group of contacts for those of you who may have questions, which is posted on the site, and also has an extensive training schedule for HAZUS-MH in place.

I also wanted to make a few comments on trends in GIS and emergency management:

a) It seems to me that our GIS programs are becoming more powerful.

b) Higher resolution data sources are becoming more available.

c) Technology allows us to use GIS on PC Tablets and very small GPS units, and other hand-held units; and

d) There will be more GIS courses associated with hazard and emergency management curriculums in our higher education programs.

This concludes my overview, and I will be glad to address your questions and take your comments.

[Audience Questions & Answers]


Burt Wallrich: Do the Census data available through HAZUS-MH make it possible to pinpoint demographic information such as percent of population below poverty level in a specific part of an urban area?

John Pine: Burt: good question - the Census 2000 data is very comprehensive. We have the most accurate count on people by Census Block. There are other types of information, as you know, that is available by either Block Group or Tract. Some of the data is only available by Tract. Concerning the Below Poverty Level, I would have to look at what level this type of data is provided. In most cases this type of data is not available by Census Block.


Valerie Quigley: Are you familiar with any of the GIS modeling done with wildfire modeling programs?

John Pine: Valerie: the US Forest service does have some modeling programs that run on the PC. One of my colleagues at LSU has a good program that allows us to model the fire / smoke from such an event. I can provide the contact information on the program to Amy.

I have a question for the group. Are any of you using the D.O.D. CATS program or the EPA / NOAA Marplot / Landview Programs?


Amy Sebring: You are very experienced with the hurricane hazard in Louisiana. How well do you think the HAZUS model handles loss estimates for hurricane?

John Pine: The new HAZUS MH program will not deal with storm surge. It will only examine wind hazards associated with hurricanes. The program is coming out with flood hazard modeling and coastal flooding, but not storm surge. There are two major efforts to describe storm surge. Both work on very powerful computers such as "super mike" at LSU and others with the Corps of Engineers. Their outputs may be utilized in GIS systems.


Mark Deutschman: What is the source of much of the GIS data, and can it be accessed through a Web mapping service?

John Pine: The USGS has excellent data sources as noted in the presentation. ESRI and Intergraph both provide comprehensive data sets - take a look at the ESRI site for much of the TIGER data sets from the Census 2000 -- http://www.esri.com.

Mark Deutschman: But, these data need to be downloaded to your local client?

John Pine: I am not sure what you are looking for Mark.

Mark Deutschman: The RRBDIN site (http://www.rrbdin.org) capitalizes on new Web mapping service specifications from the OGC.

John Pine: Thanks, Mark, for the site.


Karl Kpatakpa: Do you know of HAZUS-MH applications in the private sector?

John Pine: I have seen several private sector loss estimation models from the private sector - Karl - but they are for internal use by the Risk Management Community and not generally available to us.


Amy Sebring: John, how much general GIS background does a user need to effectively use HAZUS? It seems to me that the flood modeling is rather sophisticated?

John Pine: Good question!!! – It’s not just the GIS program that we need; we need someone who understands hydrology, as well as someone who understands community planning principles. And then there is quite a learning curve in this new ESRI application for those who have been using ArcView. We will all need a short refresher in ARCGIS.


Mark Deutschman: Is the underlying model for river forecasting FLOODWAV?

John Pine: Mark - the HAZUS MH program uses two modeling efforts. The most advanced is based on the Corps of Engineers - HECRAS - program. The other and more general flood modeling is based on a "river reach" effort. The HAZUS program needs good stream flood data for the "general" flood modeling, and unfortunately this is not readily available in the U.S. The program then uses statewide data.


Marg Olson: Is this tool intended for pre-incident planning or disaster management AFTER something happens?

John Pine: HAZUS-MH is best used in "mitigation" / planning efforts. My impression is that "flood" forecasting is a completely different initiative. The National Weather Service has several models that use stream information to prepare flood forecast messages shared with our communities. I suspect that FEMA would not want us to use this in a response to predict flooding.


Amy Sebring: John, what are your recommendations for getting a User Group going?

John Pine: Our group along the Gulf of Mexico has a common threat - hurricanes. I believe where a group has a common hazard, we can link our interest in learning how to utilize the new HAZUS MH software and its applications. I suggest that if you are interested in being part of a user group that you contact your FEMA Regional office and talk with the hazard mitigation team. They can help!!

Amy Sebring: (Please also see http://www.hazus.org for further information about Users Groups.)

John Pine: I am interested in knowing how our participants are using GIS in their agencies - planning / response / mitigation / other applications?


Valerie Quigley: There is a group at Lawrence Livermore working on some pretty amazing fire modeling software using GIS maps. They are trying to include the fire-making-its-own-weather phenomena, as well as characteristics of the material being consumed.

John Pine: Please send me more information on their efforts and we will post this to the http://hazards.lsu.edu GIS Web site.

Valerie Quigley: It runs on some gigantic computer at Los Alamos, I believe -- very interesting application.


Mark Deutschman: I would recommend you look at the RRBDIN site (http://www.rrbdin.org). EIIP has been involved in this effort and it uses Web mapping service for decision support. We are hoping to incorporate near-real time flood hazard prediction.

Amy Sebring: Thanks for the plug Mark!


Joe Sukaskas: In Maine, a GIS specialist has been added to the State Emergency Response Team to support the ERT by displaying data about an event underway. One issue we are still working is how to blend public data with confidential infrastructure data and make the result available to county Emergency Management Agencies without compromising sensitive data.

John Pine: Joe: I do understand that some our data sets are limited in the distribution. We will need to ensure for our partners at the federal, state, and local levels that we respect the limitations that are placed on the data.

I have one further comment on the Web mapping. I see that many communities can use the Internet Web mapping for Intranet and Internet applications for emergencies. This could be the fastest application area for emergency managers in the future. Web mapping may also be linked to our models and have the experts run the models for our use.


Amy Sebring: Following up on Joe's comment, is there a role for State Emergency Management Agencies, and if so, what should it be? (In terms of data.)

John Pine: FEMA and other federal agencies have been the leaders in data distribution; however, many state agencies have been helping to develop localized data sets. And then, 911 communications districts, planning offices, and public works have been doing some great data development for local communities. There is action at all levels. The state needs to help coordinate the data dissemination.


Amy Sebring: Thank you very much John for your time and effort today. Please stand by a moment while we make some quick announcements:

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Thanks to everyone for participating today, including our guests from the IAEM conference. Say "Hi" to Mickey for us! Our session is adjourned but before you go, please help me show our appreciation to John for a fine job.