One-upping the San Andreas Fault Line

From LA, Intro GIS

Most people are well aware that the state of California is a hot bed for tectonic activity, which means if you’d like to avoid earthquakes, California is not the place for you. The reason there is such a high number of earthquakes in California is because running for 1,300 kilometers right down the middle of the state is the San Andreas Fault line. What is this Fault line you ask? Well, it’s where the Pacific and North American tectonic plates meet. And because tectonic plates have this funny little tendency to move around and bump into each other, Californians have been putting up with a good deal of seismic disturbance for quite some time. Naturally, there has been lots of studies done on the San Andreas Fault, trying to deduce when exactly the next big earthquake will come, big meaning achieving a rating of 7.0 or greater on the Richter scale. We know these earthquakes are coming but we don’t exactly know when they are going to occur. The best way to minimize casualties and maximize rescue and relief operations efficacy is to be extremely well prepared.

On November 13th, 2008, at 10:00 am, millions of people in Southern California took a big step towards preparing themselves for the ‘big one’. It was called the ShakeOut Drill, and it was the largest earthquake preparedness drill in U.S. history. All these people were simulating how to deal with, and how emergency services would respond to, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake. The projected damage of an earthquake of this magnitude is estimated to be about 2,000 deaths, 50,000 injuries, and $200 billion worth of other damages. That scenario is definitely something you want to be prepared for.

You may be saying to yourself “Well that’s cool, but how did they simulate emergency service responses, and what does this have to do with GIS?” Here’s you answer. The GIS company, ESRI partnered itself with several of the preparedness agencies and provided a whole slew of software to model the damage assessment, and the efficacy of rescue, relief, and recovery efforts. GIS was used to build an extremely accurate spatial database, help resource management and decision support, as well as improve communication between jurisdictions, as clearly, adequate communication may well be the most important thing to have in the event of a natural disaster. These aren’t the only thing GIS was used for in the simulation:

GIS helped collect and manage large volumes of diverse data including simulated damaged buildings, roads, and power and water infrastructure; affected populations; delivered supplies; and the deployment of fire, emergency medical services, law enforcement, and homeland security staff. Live data, such as weather updates, video, and Global Positioning System (GPS) information, was streamed into the GIS database and disseminated to individuals using desktop computers, mobile devices, and Web-enabled laptops. Mobile GIS helped field crews collect remotely sensed data that was automatically sent back to the comprehensive spatial database.

One can’t really argue with the fact that GIS was essentially the main component of the entire simulation. This is a very excellent example of how GIS can be used to increase the efficacy of relief efforts in the face of a natural disaster, something we have all already seen in Assignment 3 of our Intro to GIS course, where we created some targeted emergency relief maps for the fictional earthquake centered in McGill campus. This definitely points to the fact that GIS can be a very useful tool for quick and effective disaster relief, provided that accurate geospatial data has been collected prior to the disaster, as this was the case for the simulation.

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