response—communities at all levels have made massive investments in acquiring geospatial information, converting it to digital form, and maintaining computer-based systems for accessing and using it. Often, multiple applications need the same geospatial data sets, allowing for efficiencies or redundancies in data development, depending on the amount of coordination between organizations.

This report is about the geospatial data and tools that are available for one particular application, that of preparing for and responding to emergencies. It discusses how those resources are utilized and the impediments that may exist to their greater and more effective utilization. Although in testimony the committee was told that “successful emergency response starts with a map,” the experience of recent disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and the attacks of September 11, 2001, has shown that the geospatial data and tools that exist within our communities have not been integrated effectively into disaster planning, response, and recovery (Sidebar 1.1). There are many reasons for this, and they are explored in this report. The committee also examines the consequences of underutilization, which are often disastrous, in the form of loss of life, damage to property, and damage to the environment. The report’s recommendations point to steps that can be taken to address this serious issue at local, national, and international levels through increased utilization and more effective integration of geospatial data and tools into emergency management processes. As MacFarlane (2005, p. 124) notes in a report on the use of geographic information systems in emergency management in the United Kingdom, “The principles, both technical and operational, … are established … and the technical enablers are all proven. It will now require vision and leadership to realize the gains.” Closer to home, a recent report from the National Governors Association concluded that “despite the promise of GIS technology for strengthening homeland security and its growing popularity across government, its use is not yet ubiquitous. To be useful during an emergency, the mapping tools and underlying data must be in place before the event occurs. While an emergency operations center (EOC) would require the tools and data other government agencies use every day, many states still lack an organizational and operational connection between the EOC and those other agencies. Often executive leadership is necessary to make these connections” (National Governors Association, 2006, p. 7).


The committee was charged with assessing the status of the use of geospatial data, tools, and infrastructure in disaster management and making recommendations to increase and improve that use. Specifically, the study tasks were to

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