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GIS volunteers map disaster-response intelligence

Mapping and Planning Support (MAPS) is a group of GIS professionals who volunteer their time, specialised skills and mapping technology to support emergency response teams across Australia with m...


Once deployed to an emergency, the team use their skills and GIS technology from Esri Australia to produce detailed maps, layered with real-time information. With these, they deliver critical disaster intelligence to fire fighters, police, other ground personnel and emergency control centres.

The layers of data include flood-mapping, road closures, locations where missing people are reported and Red Cross resource locations, and can be turned on or off, depending on the information requirement. Crowdsourced and social media data can also be integrated into the system following verification.

Markus Blake, Assistant Director of Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and MAPS member, shares, “For emergency services in disaster situations, it is critical to have reliable, up-to-date information as quickly as possible”.

“GIS technology enables us to rapidly collect, process, and distribute vital maps of information to response teams and senior management making decisions in the field, when they need it.

“By viewing this vast array of emergency information on the one map, personnel can quickly see patterns – such as where the nearest evacuation point is relative to a flood’s path, for example – and determine the best course of action.”

Josh Venman, GIS Specialist at Esri Australia, said, “MAPS experiences and achievements are ultimately contributing to the international pool of knowledge for GIS users volunteering their skills in times of need. GIS technology is vital in the midst of a disaster, when information is critical and people’s lives are at stake”.

MAPS came together in 2005 following the prolonged Canberra fires in 2003. At the time, the Australian Capital Territory Emergency Services Agency (ACT ESA) had sophisticated GIS technology in place, but lacked access to sufficient human resource to continue operating the system after two weeks of continuous operation.

Since then, MAPS has assisted during some of Australia’s most catastrophic events, including the 2009 Victorian Black Saturday bushfires and 2011 Queensland floods and cyclones.

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