I am no stranger to the impact of disasters having survived Hurricane Hugo in 1989, and witnessed the Soufriere Hills Volcano disrupt everything I knew about life in Montserrat since 1995.
As I listened to the reports on the experience of our neighbouring islanders who were affected by the super hurricanes of 2017, Irma and Maria (which I now simply refer to as IRMARIA), I empathized. Now as I watch reports of the experience of the residents of El Rodeo, Guatemala in dealing with the eruption of Volcan de Fuego which erupted on June 6, 2018, I am driven to share a bit of how my work can help countries manage disasters better.
Geospatial technologies have improved in recent years and are more efficient and reliable to enhance our planning, mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery from disasters. The majority of data needed for these phases of emergency management is spatial, and once it is spatial it can be mapped and utilized effectively.
Over the years, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) has taught me a few things in relation to disaster management. Here are five (5) of them:
1. Most emergencies don’t allow time to gather information.
2. During an actual emergency there is no time for guessing or estimating, it is critical to have the right data, at the right time.
3. Lack of appropriate information leads to poor planning and poor decision making.
4. GIS provides a mechanism to centralize and visually display critical information during an emergency.
5. GIS saves time, money and lives!
The road to recovery is often very difficult for anyone faced with loss after the impact of a disaster. Many of us on Montserrat however, built up our resilience as we reflect on the loss of homes – not just houses. We have embraced the challenge of recreating the places we lost. Unbelievably, the Government Headquarters building in Plymouth was newly constructed and the Glendon Hospital was newly refurbished at the time of the eruption. Personally, I often reflect on the town centre which was thriving and bustling as it created jobs, enhanced livelihoods and held memorable spaces, such as “Evergreen Tree” and the “market” for social interaction.
A specialism in GIS allowed me the opportunity to support recovery efforts by utilizing data and producing maps that helped to manage evacuation paths, relocate families safely to shelters, assist in ash clean-up efforts by tracking progress and by utilizing the output of modelling scenarios to identify future impact areas. GIS provides a mechanism to forge ahead and recover despite the impact of a disaster. Montserrat is now in a phase of re-development and GIS has contributed significantly to this. I do look forward to telling you more about how GIS can be used in disaster management.
Lavern Rogers-Ryan is a geospatial consultant specialising in disaster risk management and recovery. She is currently head of the GIS Centre within the Government of Montserrat. Learn more about geospatial services in disasters at www.lavernrogersryan.com.