Skip to content
Quick Start for:

Emergency Management 3


Texas should create a geographic information systems database that contains all information that might be needed during a disaster.


Geographic information systems (GIS) consist of tools which can analyze, store, manipulate and display geographically referenced information, such as, data identified according to their locations. GIS can use information from many different sources, in many different forms. The primary requirement for the data is that the locations of the variables are known. Location may be shown by coordinates of longitude, latitude, and elevation or by attributes such as ZIP codes or highway mile markers.

GIS technology is a valuable asset for government. It can be used for scientific investigations, land use and urban growth planning, zoning, permit tracking, transportation planning and management, emergency management, school bus routing and taxation analysis. For example, GIS would allow emergency planners to easily calculate emergency response times in the event of a disaster, or a GIS database might be used to find wetlands that need protection from pollution.

The importance of GIS in emergency response was highlighted in New York after the World Trade Center bombings in September. In the first four days of the rescue attempts, no GIS equipment was available. Rescue workers had to create maps on cardboard or use shopping guides to draw maps of unstable buildings. Once GIS equipment arrived, the rescue operations team was able to create maps that included location of command and first aid centers, food stations and hazards such as fires or debris hanging from buildings. Images from heat sensing cameras were used to detect fire patterns in the rubble and combined with locations of underground fuel tanks to find the source of the fires. Based on these maps, rescue workers could then plan their work each day.[1] Also posted after the attack was a Relief and Rescue Map of Manhattan. It included locations and links for information such as hospitals, missing persons, blood donation centers, closed roads, telephone and electrical outages, grief counseling centers, relief organizations and damaged areas.[2]

The consensus among GIS staff working in the New York disaster was that data collection was the biggest challenge. GIS is widely used in New York, but determining which agency had the most current information, gathering data and verifying it proved to be difficult.[3]

Other state and local governments have used GIS in emergency planning and response as well. Pennsylvania developed a GIS database to help in their emergency planning. In Salt Lake City, Utah, GIS has been used to analyze the effect of an earthquake on the response time of fire and rescue squads. By combining information about the Utah road network, fire stations, and the types of soil around the fault line, analysis showed how fast areas within the city could be served, the areas most likely to be affected by an earthquake and where the worst damage to roadways could be expected.[4] During an earthquake in San Francisco, police and fire department personnel were able to use GIS to create visual images and maps from volumes of disaster reports. This allowed emergency vehicles and repair crews to be dispatched quickly and efficiently around the bay area.[5]

GIS in Texas

In Texas, GIS is coordinated by the Texas Geographic Information Council (TGIC), a data coordination and planning group. TGIC is made up of forty-one state agencies, universities and local or regional government associations. Only governmental entities with statewide responsibilities may join. The Texas Natural Resources Information System (TNRIS) and the Department of Information Resources provide TGIC with administrative and staff support.

TGIC has developed data standards that make it easy for GIS data to be shared across agencies. However, there is no single entity that stores all of the data collected, nor do all members of TGIC have databases or even GIS software. TNRIS and the Texas State Data Center at Texas A&M University are two of the larger data repositories in the state.

The Governor’s Division of Emergency Management (DEM) functions as the state’s emergency management office and is tasked with providing a system for the mitigation of, preparedness for, response to and recovery from natural or man-made disasters. DEM has limited in-house GIS capabilities, with no GIS trained technicians and basic software. DEM is currently considering purchasing additional GIS software that helps with planning for emergencies resulting from weapons of mass destruction or major events such as hurricanes. Currently during a state disaster, DEM uses TNRIS to help with mapping local areas, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provides resources during major disasters such as Hurricane Alison. These services are provided to DEM free of charge.

To better plan and respond to disasters in Texas, the Governor’s Division of Emergency Management should apply for an Emergency Management Performance Grant from FEMA to expand its GIS resources. This should include additional GIS equipment and four GIS trained staff who can work with TNRIS and FEMA during a disaster. This staff should be charged with working with TGIC and TNRIS to identify all data and its sources that might be needed during a disaster, and to ensure that the data standards used by the different sources are compatible with the standards used by TGIC. Layers of data could include but are not limited to: locations of shelters, relief organizations, hospitals, police departments, fire departments, evacuation routes, military bases, airports, nuclear plants or dumps, lakes, rivers or other waterways and schools. The DEM staff could then build a database of static information to be used as a starting point during disasters, and more fluid data can be added from the identified sources when needed. The GIS staff also should be charged with creating disaster models to assist in the state’s emergency planning.

Fiscal Impact

The estimated increase in Federal Funds to implement this proposal would be $260,000 for fiscal 2003 and $228,000 for each following year. The state would have to apply to the federal government during fiscal 2002 for grant money distributed during fiscal 2003. It would increase full-time employees at the Governor’s Division of Emergency Management by four.

[1] “Mapping the Hazards to Keep Rescuers Safe,” New York Times (October 4, 2001):>%201502&ei=1&en=204ee22d59ff49ea.

[2], “Interactive Relief and Rescue Map Aids in NYC Response”:

[3] E-mail from Jack Eichenbaum, New York City Department of Finance, to Anthony Townsend, Taub Urban Research Center, September 27, 2001.

[4] United States Geological Survey, “Emergency Response Planning”:

[5] “Who is Benefitting From GIS Today?”