A combined federal, state, and local disaster such as the 2023 Hawaiʻi Wildfire mission has a lot of moving parts. There are temporary power, critical public facility, temporary housing, and debris assessment and removal missions. All of the data reporting the progress of these missions has to be tracked. For the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the way to do that is by using geographic information science systems, or GIS.
USACE is using GIS data to synthesize an abundance of data to arrive at an overall picture of the status of the mission to keep everyone involved as informed as possible.
“We have used the ESRI enterprise to create and produce data that can illustrate our mission both spatially and report instantly,” said Kihei, Hawaiʻi, Recovery Field Office GIS analyst Lisa Hook. “The data created populates databases I use to display on maps that are used for briefing and tracking of numbers.”
In Maui, information being collected includes information from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, on how they have assessed sites and where USACE personnel are collecting information daily and what they are doing for work. Data collection also includes contractor reports about their daily activities. That information is filtered and provided to USACE and the public, showing the status and progress of the recovery response. This data provides a view of the “battlefield” and helps drive mission decisions.
“The maps that display our data are very beneficial in conveying status faster than data displayed in excel reports. Our mapping applications can analyze the data for reporting important information to drive decision making,” said Hook. “The GIS role is creating a platform that is organizing and analyzing our data with interactive maps at a rapid production. This information is making it easier to convey information quickly and more accurately.”
The use of GIS is relatively new and incorporates a wide breadth of possible benefits to USACE that may not be completely understood by everyone within the agency. There is a misconception that GIS personnel are just the map makers who produce documents and products for display, but the GIS mission is much more than that.
“A lot of people don’t understand how we can help them and what our capabilities are,” said Emergency Field Office GIS analyst Bill Sisneros. “What we do covers a wide range. The way I usually put it is we’re earth scientists, we’re data scientists, and a little bit of artist with the map.”
GIS analysts are involved in programming, creating websites, and applications. At the EFO in Lahaina where Sisneros works, he is involved in data management on the ground, problem solving with quality assurance specialists and contractors who send their data to him. At the RFO, Hook is more involved in graphic design and creating products for briefings.
“Data sharing has become a lot easier with advancing technology, and the new GIS applications have changed the way USACE briefs and reports on our missions,” said Hook. “The applications have made it easier to share all data seamless to inform leadership.”