Thursday, June 21, 2012

Comparing Mapping Approaches for the Duluth Floods

Over the past couple of days, the Lake Superior harbor town of Duluth, Minnesota has been hit by torrential rains that have created substantial flooding and 10's of millions of dollars of damage (click here for photos by Minnesota Public Radio).  Yesterday, June 20, 2012, in recognition of these circumstances, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton declared a state of emergency for the state.  In light of these developments, find below links to the known examples of how various entities have tried to use maps to provide situational awareness to the public about this disaster:

Minnesota Department of Transportation (Road conditions/closures)

Minnesota Public Radio (Government sources and reports by the public) 

Star Tribune (Government sources and Star Tribune field reports)

Google Public Alerts (Government generated warnings)

Comment: In any disaster, it's critical that the public has a clear understanding of what is taking place.  And as Katrina proved, the bigger the disaster, the more important that information flow is to the public. Correspondingly,the art of making information about a disaster useful to the public hinges on the ability to narrow down large and diverse data streams into focused information delivered in a usable format. In an era where the majority of Americans rely on the Internet for information services, and increasingly greater numbers understand electronic maps through GPS ownership, it is my belief that a web-based mapping approach similar to the ones offered above would be the best possible way to deliver that refined stream of data to the public. However, as can be seen from a review of these current state-of-the-art examples - examples that could be found almost anywhere in the country during a disaster - the potential value to the public has been lost by the lack of an officially sanctioned viewer that delivers the "total picture" and has granularity. Instead, what is available is being dispensed by mostly unofficial sources with varying access to data and varying beliefs about what is important. Consequently, there can be little doubt that if geospatial information systems are ever going to be successfully used by the Emergency Services Sector for internal and external purposes, engagement on the issue of data management will have to be a key part of the equation.       

Lead photo credit: Derek Montgomery, for Minnesota Public Radio

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