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In this 5-part blog series, we interview GIS and emergency management expert, Richard Butgereit, on the use of GIS technologies to improve catastrophe response.
Hurricane Michael – Image Rights Vexcel Imaging
Improving Natural Disaster Recovery Efforts through GIS
In part 2 of the 5-part blog series with Richard Butgereit, Director of Catastrophe Response, explained the role GIS plays in disaster preparedness and management.
This week, we hear from Richard on the ways in which GIS and the Geospatial Intelligence Center’s partnership with the private sector improves recovery efforts, allowing communities to rebuild faster.
Can you tell us why the post-disaster assessment process is critical to recovery efforts?
Richard: “Post-disaster damage assessment is what drives the recovery effort after a natural disaster. Affected areas need to be assessed to ascertain how many houses were destroyed or how many people no longer have a place to go to work or to live. Once the affected areas have been assessed, this information is then used to scope and begin the recovery process with the goal of making a community whole again.”
How has post-disaster data collection enhanced recovery efforts?
Richard: “If you look at the adoption of post-disaster imagery made available to emergency management organizations and stakeholders, it’s a constant evolution. Years ago we had disasters like Hurricane Katrina in which the response nor recovery efforts were well coordinated at the very beginning. We saw quickly that a lack of organization and resources could have a tremendous impact on outcomes after a disaster. Like with so many disasters, in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, post-disaster imagery collection efforts were in direct conflict with critical search and rescue operations, delaying data collection. And unfortunately, the data collected didn’t show up to emergency operations centers until several weeks after the storm – and even then, the data collected was hard to assess due to the lack of an index and inability to understand which locations at which time were covered by the imagery. As a result, it wasn’t effectively leveraged to positively affect outcomes.
Fast forward to today, the lessons learned along with advancements in technology and the development of programs like the Geospatial Intelligence Center, and we now have unprecedented post-disaster data collection coordinated as a component of the response, capturing unprecedented quantities of quality, high-resolution data that can be turned around in quicker time frames than ever previously possible and contributing to recovery.
The end result is critical to the rebuilding of communities. In addition to serving our GIC member insurers, the GIC can share this same post-disaster data with emergency responders and government organizations like FEMA that can be used immediately to change outcomes for families, businesses, and communities that have been impacted – helping them get back on their feet faster.” What ways can geospatial analytics be used in combination with imagery to provide the most comprehensive response?
Richard: “I see two base feeds of information following disasters, one driven from the public sector and one driven from the private sector. Each can drive disaster response and recovery, but they work best, and most effectively for the communities impacted, when the data can be shared across these domains. On the public side, data feeds include FEMA’s Individual Assistance Program, where phone calls and registration for aid are being initiated. This information is one indicator of the areas and levels of damage that a person’s home or business has endured. On the private side, insurers are a critical resource to people affected by these disasters. From their respective positions, how can this data be de-identified and aggregated to foster this cross-domain data sharing? I remember working in the Florida emergency operations center and observing as the US National Grid, a tactical tool originally created to improve search and rescue ground operations, naturally through geospatial analytics revealed itself as a strategic tool for data de-identification and aggregation.
Even as more sophisticated geospatial analytics like machine learning and artificial intelligence evolve around us, including using GIC post-disaster imagery, that same imagery is being used today to drive comprehensive response. When responders and emergency managers gather around our imagery, conversations and connections are spawned. And from those, we can logically dive into further data sharing discussions and work to assist communities affected by natural disasters. This type of partnership is a true game-changer in disaster response.”

In this 5-part blog series, we interview GIS and emergency management expert, Richard Butergerit, on the use of GIS technologies to improve catastrophe response.
GIS Technology’s Impact on Disaster Preparedness & Response
In last week’s blog post, we talked about the trend toward more frequent disasters across the country and introduced you to Richard Butgereit, our Director of Catastrophe Response.
This week, we continue the conversation by diving deeper with Richard into how GIS technology is being leveraged to improve disaster preparedness and response.
What role does GIS technology play in disaster management?
Richard: “One of the big misconceptions is that GIS is simply a mapping tool. But GIS is about much more than that – it is an analytical, data management and visualization tool that when combined with remote sensing, can provide a wealth of invaluable location information to the public as well as governments, public safety organizations and commercial industries.
When it comes to disasters, GIS is crucial in making responders and the public aware of everything from current conditions, predicted future conditions, tracking natural disasters, and modeling damage to accurately determining the location of 911 calls.”
How does GIS help prepare us for disasters?
Richard: “GIS gives us the opportunity to better leverage location information to forecast, model, and understand what could happen and when we might expect conditions to occur at a given location. This is crucial in helping prepare for a disaster because it can enable public safety organizations, first responders, and even insurers to be better prepared for how to respond to a catastrophe – before it strikes.”
How does GIS play a role in the initial response to a disaster?
Richard: “Real-time information is crucial to a catastrophe response effort as a whole. GIS is instrumental in leveraging locational information in order to help organizations, local governments, and state governments improve their response time. Monitoring traffic conditions and road closures, 911 calls, storm reports, social media posts, and power outages all inform the initial response to a disaster.
GIS provides information such as where the storm struck, where the affected populations are located, where the roads are closed, and more. By leveraging this level of intelligence, teams can be more effectively dispatched to provide aid.” Tell us more about 911 calls. How does GIS play a role?
Richard: “As mobile technology becomes ubiquitous, quickly locating people in need during an emergency has become a more difficult task. Without a fixed landline location, emergency responders are often dispatched to the wrong location, or the response time for an emergency is lengthened.
A localized emergency begins with a 911 call. GIS, leveraging the right oblique aerial imagery, has helped solve this issue by assisting in “visual triangulation,” the use of oblique images to determine the location of a point in space. Leveraging location information contained in this imagery, emergency responders can better identify landmarks in the vicinity of incidents. These visual cues enable responders to locate citizens in need of help quickly and with precision.
Additionally, oblique aerial imagery has transformed the level of critical insight an emergency responder has access to before arriving at an incident. Crucial data, like the location of  emergency exits in a building, is now available – arming emergency responders with the knowledge to make them more effective in response efforts.”
Stay tuned next week as we dive into how GIS is leveraged in beginning recovery efforts after a disaster to help make communities feel whole again.

GIC has mobilized and is flying an aircraft today to capture aerial imagery in response to tornadoes in Alabama and Georgia. We have an Eagle camera flying capturing 7.5 cm imagery over areas devastated by several tornadoes between Tuskegee, Alabama and Waverly Hall, Georgia, including the fatal EF-4 through Beauregard-Smiths Station, Lee County, Alabama. Data collected will be shipped to our image processing center in Centennial, processed, and made available to GIS members and public safety stakeholders via secure map services available at   If you have any questions please reach out to us at Credentials for public safety stakeholders to access the data may be requested at

This is a LEVEL 2 – Partial Activation. What does this mean? 

The GIC has mobilized and is flying an aircraft today to capture aerial imagery in response to flooding in Sonoma County, California along the Russian River. Data collected will be shipped to our image processing center in Centennial, CO, processed, and made available by Monday to GIC members and public safety stakeholders via our secure web map available at  

If you have any questions please reach out to us at

Credentials for public safety stakeholders to access the data may be requested at

This is a GIC Activation Level 2 – Partial Activation

In a partial activation, all GIC gray sky staff and some GIC blue sky resources and support functions will devote efforts towards support of gray sky operations. GIC gray sky staff will work remotely with public safety officials to ensure effective identification for refinement of areas of interest and foster data sharing.


GIC is continuing to monitor conditions in Southern California for mudslides and flooding particularly in areas affected by the Woolsey Fire. Local emergency management authorities have issued mandatory and voluntary evacuations and some roads have been closed. However, significant damage to property has not yet been observed via our monitoring of social and traditional media. NWS Los Angeles Area Forecast Discussion calls for precipitation tapering off tonight with several hours of minimal shower activity going through Wednesday morning and then rain picking up again later Wednesday and into Thursday as the next system arrives.

As always, we invite input from all GIC members. If conditions worsen and you have requests for areas your organization needs to be flown, please reach out to