Expert Report

Each report is produced by a committee of experts selected by the Academy to address a particular statement of task and is subject to a rigorous, independent peer review; while the reports represent views of the committee, they also are endorsed by the Academy. Learn more on our expert consensus reports.

In the past few years the United States has experienced a series of disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which have severely taxed and in many cases overwhelmed responding agencies. In all aspects of emergency management, geospatial data and tools have the potential to help save lives, limit damage, and reduce the costs of dealing with emergencies. Great strides have been made in the past four decades in the development of geospatial data and tools that describe locations of objects on the Earth\u0092s surface and make it possible for anyone with access to the Internet to witness the magnitude of a disaster. However, the effectiveness of any technology is as much about the human systems in which it is embedded as about the technology itself. This report assesses the status of the use of geospatial data, tools, and infrastructure in disaster management, and recommends ways to increase and improve their use. It explores emergency planning and response; how geospatial data and tools are currently being used in this field; the current policies that govern their use; various issues related to data accessibility and security; training; and funding. The report recommends significant investments be made in training of personnel, coordination among agencies, sharing of data and tools, planning and preparedness, and the tools themselves.

Key Messages

  • Finally, the committee found that funding for geospatial preparedness is insufficient and the funding that exists is often used ineffectively.
  • Issues of training, coordination among agencies, sharing of data and tools, planning and preparedness, and the attention and resources invested in technology turn out to be the critical factors and the ones that have to be addressed if future responses are to be more effective.
  • The committee found that while enormous amounts of data relevant and indeed essential to emergency management exist, they are frequently scattered among multiple jurisdictions, in disparate and often incompatible formats. Numerous impediments exist to data sharing, including lack of interoperability at many levels, lack of knowledge about what data exist and where, restrictions on use, lack of training on the part of users, concerns about data security, and lack of operational infrastructure in the immediate aftermath of disaster.
  • The committee's central conclusion is that geospatial data and tools should be an essential part of all aspects of emergency management from planning for future events, through response and recovery, to the mitigation of future events. Yet they are rarely recognized as such, because society consistently fails to invest sufficiently in preparing for future events, however inevitable they may be.