Geospatial Information: The Future of Situational Awareness During Complex Catastrophes

  • Colonel Kevin Julius Quarles

Complex catastrophes are capable of causing significant casualties and extensive infrastructure damage. In extreme cases, they can trigger cascading effects that could threaten national security. Over the last decade there have been significant improvements in disaster response planning and emergency communications. However, there is a gap in the communications capability between the personnel coordinating disaster response operations and the victims who need assistance. The public needs an alternative method of communications to request help when phone service is unavailable. If left unsolved, during complex catastrophes this gap could lead to preventable casualties and unnecessary damage. Many government, private and volunteer organizations already use geospatial information during disasters to build situational awareness. Our disaster preparedness plans and policies need to incorporate the public’s use of social media with embedded geospatial information as a tool to build situational awareness and provide the public with an alternate method of emergency communications.