Home Crisis Management Why Operational Dashboards Are Vital for Emergency Management
Why Operational Dashboards Are Vital for Emergency Management

Why Operational Dashboards Are Vital for Emergency Management

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By Liam O’Brien, Faculty Member, Intelligence Studies at American Military University

In today’s tech-driven society, nearly every person and every device has the potential to share location-based data in near-real time with a global audience. For example, individuals can send location-tagged images via smartphones; post real-time events on Twitter; contribute data to crowdsourcing applications such as the traffic and navigation app, Waze; and post information about their location from internet-enabled fitness bands and smartwatches.

Much of this data is used by public safety and emergency management agencies. For example, the movement of buses, trains, aircraft, and first responder vehicles can be tracked, and traffic incidents and road conditions monitored. People needing rescue in disaster incidents can request help using smartphones, and rescue personnel can continuously update their location and status to Emergency Operations Centers. During an emergency response, critical supplies and materials can all be tracked and monitored. There is no slowing down in the increasing scope and sources to transmit near real-time, location-based data.

How Location-Based Data Helps Emergency Managers

The application of this technology and the shared data holds immense potential for those with emergency management responsibilities. Emergency managers currently rely on a wide variety of location-based data to support their mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery missions. However, it can be a daunting task to figure out how to effectively turn the overwhelming flood of raw data into usable information that can be analyzed and shared.

One solution that is aiding emergency managers is the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) operational dashboards. GIS technologies are not new; they have aided the emergency management community since the 1970s and have become essential elements in modern emergency management practice.

In essence, GIS takes data that is referenced to an Earth coordinate system and stores, analyzes, and produces spatial data and information. This information can then be compiled into a dashboard, which is an interactive visualization of information displayed in a variety of formats, including graphical, map-based, or numerical. The beauty of a dashboard is that it can convey a wealth of actionable information on one screen, whether it’s a computer or mobile device.

The Power of GIS-Enabled Operational Dashboards

There has been an explosion of GIS-enabled operational dashboards that aggregate and display near-real time geographic data. The vast majority of them are created using Esri ArcGIS software and extensions.

In a very simplified explanation of how to create a GIS-enabled operational dashboard, creating a dashboard is begun by first identifying the desired near-live data feeds, which could come from a location-enabled smartphone application, such as a Twitter feed. Connections are then made between the GIS and those data feeds. The data from the different sources are then processed and analyzed, and the dashboard displayed on a computer screen with the ability to access the dashboard on mobile field devices.

Below are two dashboard examples. The first is a model resource management dashboard for a generic search and rescue mission in Houston created by the National Alliance for Public Safety GIS (NAPSG) Foundation. The NAPSG is a non-profit organization whose mission is “enhancing public safety through the power of geospatial technology and data.” This organization is an excellent resource for information and guidance on all things GIS, including operational dashboards.

operational dashboards
Image used with permission from NAPSG.

This web-based model dashboard is hosted by Esri ArcGIS Online. Users can interact with the map and data in a mock “live” resource-management dashboard environment. It provides locational and tabular data on rescue requests, rescues completed, the status of rescue workers, and the status of hospitals and shelters.

Also, the map view can be navigated. When the user clicks on each map symbol, associated data appears in a text box. For example, when the user clicks on a rescue request, data is provided on the needed rescue method, the unit logging the text, and other data such as information about whether pets are involved.

The second example of a dashboard is the Wildfire Status Dashboard provided by the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC). The continuously updated live dashboard provides current information on wildfires in the U.S. organized by state, acres burned, and cause. The information can be used by local and regional emergency management offices to monitor the status of wildfires and plan for contingencies. The live IAFC Wildfire Status Dashboard is hosted by Esri ArcGIS Online.

operational dashboards
Image used with permission from IAFC.

These operational dashboards allow emergency managers and other parties to better comprehend data from complex, near-real-time data feeds. This visualized presentation of information allows emergency managers to create insights from data that helps them make more informed decisions, take precise actions, and create more comprehensive strategies during a crisis.

For more information on operational dashboards, see the Esri online tutorials and guides. A few helpful publications offered by non-profit organizations include the World Food Programme’s Creating Operation Dashboards and the NASPG’s Guidance on Resource Management Dashboards.

operational dashboardsAbout the Author: Liam O’Brien is a faculty member in the Intelligence Studies program at American Military University and a previous member of the Defense Intelligence Senior Executive Service at the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency. To contact the author, email IPSauthor@apus.edu. For more articles featuring insight from industry experts, subscribe to In Public Safety’s bi-monthly newsletter.




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