Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for Disaster Management: 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for Disaster Management

1st Edition

By Brian Tomaszewski


310 pages | 148 B/W Illus.

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pub: 2014-12-19
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Geographic Information Systems (GIS) provide essential disaster management decision support and analytical capabilities. As such, homeland security professionals would greatly benefit from an interdisciplinary understanding of GIS and how GIS relates to disaster management, policy, and practice. Assuming no prior knowledge in GIS and/or disaster management, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for Disaster Management guides readers through the basics of GIS as it applies to disaster management practice.

Using a hands-on approach grounded in relevant GIS and disaster management theory and practice, this textbook provides coverage of the basics of GIS. It examines what GIS can and can’t do, GIS data formats (vector, raster, imagery), and basic GIS functions, including analysis, map production/cartography, and data modeling. It presents a series of real-life case studies that illustrate the GIS concepts discussed in each chapter. These case studies supply readers with an understanding of the applicability of GIS to the full disaster management cycle.

Providing equal treatment to each disaster management cycle phase, the book supplies disaster management practitioners and students with coverage of the latest developments in GIS for disaster management and emerging trends. It takes a learning-by-examples approach to help readers apply what they have learned from the examples and disaster management scenarios to their specific situations.

The book illustrates how GIS technology can help disaster management professionals, public policy makers, and decision-makers at the town, county, state, federal, and international levels. Offering software-neutral best practices, this book is suitable for use in undergraduate- or graduate-level disaster management courses. Offering extensive career advice on GIS for disaster management from working professionals, the book also includes a GIS for disaster management research agenda and ideas for staying current in the field.


"The book is well designed for use as a training tool or textbook with a summary, case studies, and discussion questions in each chapter. The resource notes provided are extremely helpful if expansion in a given area is required. If you are cast in the role of managing or participating in an emergency response team, this is a book to keep on your professional bookshelf." - Terry V. Culver, Security Management: A Publication of ASIS International

Table of Contents

A Survey of GIS for Disaster Management

Chapter Objectives


GIS and Geographical Context

GIS and Situation Awareness

The Problem: Continued Need for GIS in Disaster Management

Scale, Scope, and Intensity of Disasters

Case Study: Burkina Faso—Disasters in the Developing World

The Need for Improved Coordination, Sharing, and Interoperability

Problems of GIS Awareness in Disaster Management

The Opportunity: Increased Awareness and Advocacy of GIS and Mapping

Crisis Mapping

Interview with Dr. Jen Ziemke, Cofounder and Codirector of the International Network of Crisis Mappers

Spatial Thinking and Disaster Management

Chapter Summary

Discussion Questions


Fundamentals of Geographic Information and Maps

Chapter Objectives


Data vs. Information


Three Ways of Representing Map Scale

Large- vs. Small-Scale Maps

Why Scale Matters: Detail and Accuracy

Map Projections

Coordinate Systems

Universal Transverse Mercator Coordinate System

State Plane Coordinate (SPC) System


Reference Ellipsoids

Control Points

The Importance of Datums

Coordinate Systems: The Whole Picture

Basic Principles of Cartography

Mapping Principles

Data Measurement

Visual Variables

Figure and Ground Relationships

Map Types: Reference and Thematic

Reference Maps

Thematic Maps


Designing Usable Maps in a GIS Context

Common Examples of Poorly Made Maps Created with a GIS

Interview with Dr. Anthony C. Robinson

Chapter Summary

Discussion Questions


Principles of Mapping

Geodesy (including datums and reference ellipsoids)

History of Cartography

Basics of Statistical Data Classification for Maps

Designing Good Maps in a GIS Context

Map Color


Geographic Information Systems

Chapter Objectives


What Is GIS?

Organizing the World Geographically: Map Layers

What Can You Do (and Not Do) with GIS Software?

Data and Spatial Asset Management


GIS Programming


Cartography, Visualization, and Map Production


Limitations of GIS

Understanding GIS Data Models

Vector Models


GIS Metadata

Specific GIS Technology

GIS Technology Platforms and Disaster Management


Google Maps and Other Google Geospatial Technology


Other Commercial, Free, and Open-Source or Openly Available GIS Technologies


Other GIS Technologies

Free and Open-Source Datasets Relevant to Disaster Management

How to Choose the Right GIS Technology for Disaster Management

Getting Started with GIS Technology and GIS Technology Configuration Ideas

Chapter Summary

Discussion Questions



Disaster Management and Geographic Information Systems

Chapter Objectives


Disaster Management Cycle

Terms: Emergency, Disaster, Crisis, and Catastrophe

Disaster Management Cycle

Role of GIS within Disaster Management Policy and Practice

Policy in the United States: The National Incident Management System (NIMS)

Incident Command System (ICS)

United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Geospatial Concept of Operations (GeoCONO PS)

United States National Spatial Data Infrastructure

Local Government: Cities, Towns, and Counties

County GIS: Interview with Mr. Scott McCarty




GIS and Other US Federal Agencies

Non-US Federal-Level Disaster Management: Interview with Dr. Michael Judex

Private Sector

Private Sector Perspective: Interview with Alan Leidner

International Disaster Management Community and GIS

Nongovernmental Organizations


Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT )

Crisis Mappers


International Disaster Management Support Mechanisms

International Charter on Space and Major Disasters

Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System (GDACS)

World Bank GFDRR

United Nations

Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs: ReliefWeb


UN-SPIDER Perspectives: Interview with Antje Hecheltjen

GIS, Disaster Management, and the United Nations: Interview with Dr. Jörg Szarzynski

Chapter Summary

Discussion Questions and Activities



Geographic Information Systems and Disaster Planning and Preparedness

Chapter Objectives


Technology and Dataset Planning and Preparation

Essential Disaster Management Map Layers

Additional Sources of Ideas for Essential Disaster Management Map Layers

Department of Homeland Security Geospatial Data Model

Technology Planning and Preparation

Organizational Perspectives

Using GIS to Support Planning and Preparation Activities

Spatial Perspectives on Broader Planning and Preparation Activities

Common GIS Tasks for Disaster Planning and Preparation Activities

Evacuation Route Planning

Evacuation Zone Planning

Scenario Modeling to Answer What-If Questions

Public Outreach and Citizen Participation

GIS and Disaster Management Planning: A United Nations Perspective

Interview with Lóránt Czárán


Discussion Questions and Activities



Geographic Information Systems and Disaster Response

Chapter Objectives


Disaster Response Policy in the United States

Geographical Aspects of Situation Awareness

Maps and Emergency Operation Centers

GIS and Disaster Warnings

Spatial Data Deluge

Hot Spot Mapping

Density Mapping

Real-Time GIS

Disaster Response GIS Products

Online Disaster Response Geographic Data Streams

GIS and Damage Assessment

Field Data Collection and Mobile GIS

Public and Disaster Response Mapping: Crisis Mapping and Citizen Reporting

Chapter Summary

Discussion Questions and Activities



Geographic Information Systems and Disaster Recovery

Chapter Objectives


Geographical Aspects of Disaster Recovery

Using GIS to Support Disaster Recovery Tasks


Restoring Critical Infrastructure

Debris Cleanup

Recovery Planning

Transition from Recovery to Mitigation

Interview with David Alexander: US Federal Government Geospatial Technology Leader

and Expert

Chapter Summary

Discussion Questions and Activities



Geographic Information Systems and Disaster Mitigation

Chapter Objectives




Disaster Mitigation Policy and International Perspectives on GIS

The United States National Mitigation Framework

International Perspectives on Disaster Mitigation: UNISDR

GIS Techniques for Disaster Mitigation

Spatial Indexing and Modeling of Risk and Vulnerability

Social Variables

Physical Variables

Using GIS to Develop Spatial Indexes of Vulnerability and Risk

Chapter Summary

Discussion Questions and Activities



Special Topics

Chapter Objectives


Special Topics

Visual Analytics

Big Data and Disaster Management

Serious Games for GIS and Disaster Management

Geographic Information Science and Disaster Management

The Future of GIS for Disaster Management


Jen Zimeke, PhD, Crisis Mappers (Chapter 1, Specialty: Crisis Mapping)

Anthony Robinson, PhD, Penn State (Chapter 2, Specialty: Cartography)

Alan Leidner, Booz Allen Hamilton (Chapter 4, Specialty: XXX)

Antje Hecheltjen, UN-SPIDER (Chapter 4, Specialty: XXX)

Michael Judex, PhD, German Federal Office of Civil Protection and Disaster

Assistance (Chapter 4, Specialty: XXX)

Scott McCarty, Monroe County GIS (Chapter 4, Specialty: XXX)

Lóránt Czárán, United Nations Cartographic Section and Office for Outer Space

Affairs (Chapter 5, Specialty: XXX)

David Alexander, US Federal Government (Chapter 7, Specialty: XXX)

Research Agenda

Developing a GIS for Disaster Management Career


Alan Leidner (Chapter 4)

Antje Hecheltjen (Chapter 4)

Michael Judex, PhD (Chapter 4)

Scott McCarty (Chapter 4)

Jörg Szarzynski, PhD (Chapter 4)

Lóránt Czárán (Chapter 5)

David Alexander (Chapter 7)

GIS for Disaster Management Career Summary Points

Staying Current in the GIS for Disaster Management Field



Journals and Magazines

Training and Education

Volunteer Opportunities

Chapter Summary

Discussion Questions and Activities



About the Author

Brian Tomaszewski PhD is a geographic information scientist with research interests in the domains of geographic information science and technology, geographic visualization, spatial thinking, and disaster management. His published research on geographic information systems (GIS) and disaster management related topics has appeared in top scientific journals and conferences such as Information Visualization, Computers, Environment and Urban Systems, Computers and Geosciences, the IEEE Conference on Visual Analytics Science and Technology, and The Cartographic Journal. He also regularly publishes in popular GIS trade magazines such as ArcUser and ArcNews. He also is also as a scientific committee member for the Information Systems for Crisis Response and Management (ISCRAM) conference.

Dr. Tomaszewski'srelevant experience includes past work with internationally focused organizations interested in GIS and disaster management such as the United Nations Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (UN-OCHA) ReliefWeb service, United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs Platform for Space-Based Information for Disaster Management and Emergency Response (UN-SPIDER), and United Nations Global Pulse. He also served as a visiting research scientist with the United Nations Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS) in Bonn, Germany. He mentored and instructed multidisciplinary GIS for disaster management student research groups via the National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded Science Master’s Program (SMP) titled Decision Support Technologies for Environmental Forecasting and Disaster Response at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). His research on geospatial technology educational development and spatial thinking in Rwanda has been supported by the United Kingdom Department for International Development (UK-DFID) and he is actively involved in other funded computing research activities in Rwanda. Brian is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Information Sciences and Technologies at the Rochester Institute of Technology. He holds a PhD in geography from the Pennsylvania State University. For more information, visit:

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Disasters & Disaster Relief
TECHNOLOGY & ENGINEERING / Remote Sensing & Geographic Information Systems