Today, the Honolulu City Council and Enterprise Honolulu are holding a conference called “Oahu Disaster Aftermath – Building Our Resilience and Planning Our Recovery” to “identify the organization connections and individual partnerships that must be established before disaster strikes” and to determine the next steps “to achieve the goal of a comprehensive recovery plan.”

I work with maps all the time. There was a time when the best map we could share during a disaster was a large poster size map in the briefing room that the press could take pictures of and share with the public. Technology now allows us to do better. Current web mapping technology allows live web maps to be updated during and after an event so that critical information can be shared with the public via any web-connected device.

During the recent Oct. 27 tsunami evacuation I made an effort to do this. There are already printed maps and web maps showing the tsunami evacuation zones so when the warning sounded I already knew I was not in the evacuation zone. But if I had needed to evacuate, and didn’t have family or friends to call on, where would I go? I could not find any maps showing the location of the tsunami refuge centers. What I did find was a list of the centers on the Honolulu Police Department Facebook page. There were 26 total centers, here’s the list showing the first three:

If you’re not that familiar with Oahu, a list like this is helpful, but not easily or quickly useable. A web map would be much better.

I created a series of regional web maps showing all the refuge center locations on Oahu and published these maps online so they’d be accessible by anyone. I sent some tweets using the #hitsunami hashtag and the web maps were quickly shared during the event.

You can read more about these web maps and how I created them on my blog post.

Live web maps need to be part of disaster planning. The public expects to receive authoritative information from government agencies, and while lists are helpful, for many situations, maps are much better. While citizen mappers can help contribute information, particularly in the disaster recovery phase, authoritative live web maps need to come from the appropriate government agencies before, during and after an event.

Federal, State and County agencies participate in disaster planning exercises on a regular basis. The National Disaster Preparedness Training Center at the University of Hawaii conducts workshops on the use of social media for natural disaster response and recovery. The creation of live web maps that can be shared through social media should be included in all future exercises.

During a disaster, time is critical. Decisions need to be made quickly by the public based on accurate, authoritative information. The technology exists for providing information as live web maps, it’s time for our government to incorporate this into their disaster planning.

About the author: Royce Jones manages the Honolulu office for Esri. He also teaches classes at Honolulu Community College on geographic information systems and mapping.

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