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Hurricane Season: How GIS Data Continues to Change Disaster Response

By Kurt Binversie, Faculty Member, Intelligence Studies at American Military University

Eleven months ago this week, all eyes were on Hurricane Matthew, which was about to wreak havoc on Florida. At the time, it was considered one of the strongest storms to hit the U.S. in decades. Fast-forward to the 2017 hurricane season and Hurricane Irma has officially become the strongest storm to ever form in the Atlantic Ocean.

[Related: Hurricane Matthew: Using GIS Technology During Disaster Response]

Similar to preparations for Hurricane Matthew, the governors of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina have all declared states of emergency and issued evacuations for coastal residents. Irma is just on the heels of Hurricane Harvey, which made landfall in Texas, causing immense damage and flooding. Unfortunately, the danger doesn’t stop with Irma. There are two other major tropical cyclones, Katia and Jose, which are threatening the gulf coast region and Atlantic seaboard.

[Related: Preparing for a Disaster: How to Always Be Ready]

The Role of GIS Portals in Response Efforts

During such disasters, various federal agencies, nonprofit organizations, universities, military services, and even civilians come together to aid in response efforts. In order to coordinate response, these agencies and organizations rely heavily on Geospatial Intelligence System (GIS) information for real-time data.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) makes available GIS data and daily geospatial coordination notes to ensure detailed information is easily and readily available. FEMA also offers its GeoPlatform website, which provides geospatial data specifically to support emergency management agencies.

FEMA also partners with, which provides geospatial data, services, and applications to the public, government agencies and others. One great feature of GeoPlatform is that it allows users a one-stop shop to access visualizing data that shows all disasters present within the continental U.S.,  including all hurricanes, wildfires, etc. The GeoPlatform website requires a registered account, but once the account is created it provides unlimited access to geospatial data.

Disaster-relief organizations that solicit assistance from federal agencies also provide GIS portals. For example, the American Red Cross has an online mapping portal that provides a web map with layers that include all open shelters related to disaster relief, information on active storms, forecast tracking, and observed storm tracks.

GIS applications and GIS-based websites are now focusing on web-mapping portals that provide real-time observations, forecasts and warnings. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration offers real-time information with its web-mapping portal, nowCOAST.  While the current focus is on Hurricane Irma, the nowCOAST web portal provides a great interface for those who are looking at the near-term forecast as well as those who need to know if they are potentially in the path of any tropical storm in the Atlantic.

Lastly, the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency continues to provide GeoSpatial Services, delivering commonly used geospatial tools and National Systems of Geospatial (NSG) Intelligence to users.

Hurricane Irma Continues Westward

With Hurricane Irma continuing its path in the Atlantic Ocean, various federal, state, and local agencies adjust their preparations as more information about the storm’s path becomes available. FEMA has already created their information sharing portal for collaboration because every second counts during an emergency response. The National Weather Service also continues to provide updated weather conditions in the area. Those who aren’t interested in delving into GIS web portals can also access a disaster-response program map that provides the current and recent location of tropical storms, as well as forecast positions and probable tracks.

[Related: Disaster Recovery: Public Health Challenges 10 Years After Hurricane Katrina]

While no one can avert the damage expected from Hurricane Irma, thanks to the availability and accessibility of GIS data, response agencies and organizations have highly detailed information to help guide them in their response efforts.

About the Author: Kurt Binversie is an active-duty Marine with more than 17 years of dedicated service. He is the Marine Corps Tactical Imagery Analysis Course Chief and holds a Master of Science and Technology degree from the National Intelligence University and is a graduate of National Defense Intelligence College (B.A. Intelligence). Binversie is currently an adjunct professor with American Military University. He may be contacted at

Leischen Kranick is a Managing Editor at AMU Edge. She has 15 years of experience writing articles and producing podcasts on topics relevant to law enforcement, fire services, emergency management, private security, and national security.

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