I continue to be amazed at the utility and importance of GIS for disaster response. While most people are exasperated by the ongoing tragic oil spill in the Gulf, the ongoing impacts of the event demand documentation and research. There continues to be excellent application of technology to deal with the immediate and ongoing impacts, and GIS is at the core of most field operations.
I have spoken several times with Drew Stephens, head of the GIS Institute, and an instrumental actor is setting up a state-of-the-art enterprise GIS for the oil spill response. Drew has related a detailed account of the early chaos of the effort, the concerted effort to instill an enterprise architecture, the considerable mobile GPS data collection efforts, and the role of NGA in providing detailed daily imagery analysis. His perspective on the application of the technology, and the people-oriented issues, provides for compelling reading:
“I’m a fan of the people part of GIS. In an Intro to GIS class, I used to gloss over the “people” part when I taught about the components of GIS as, hardware, software, data, people, and some kind of need or process. Of course there are people, and they make decisions. I am convinced now that the people part of this response, and I’d dare say any GIS, is the critical piece. My job was to be certain that people were hearing the issues around any particular task, and that the timing and the way people work needed to be considered in any solution.”
You may have heard of the letter that Drew crafted to outline concerns about how data was being shared. I first spoke to Drew right around the time of the letter, and needless to say, emotions were still strong. We had a good conversation about the amazing work that was being done, but the conversation was also somewhat tainted by the unresolved issues related in the letter. We decided to hold off on publication until there could be some sort of closure on this issue, which has now occurred in a very positive light.
You’ll want to read the full interview for a detailed accounting of the spill response, and several initiatives that are underway to provide a public-facing repository for oil spill data to the public and to researchers.