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USGS National Wetlands Research Center Provides Geospatial Technology to Assist in the Hurricane Katrina Search and Recovery Efforts

Updated September 6, 2005

USGS uses GIS to help locate 911 calls in the aftermath of Hurricane KatrinaAs part of the rescue efforts by the Governor’s Office of Emergency Preparedness, scientists in the Spatial Analysis Branch of the USGS National Wetlands Research Center in both Lafayette and Baton Rouge, La., have been working with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, the Louisiana Geological Survey, and the Louisiana State Police to provide critical assistance in locating victims of Hurricane Katrina. The catastrophic storm struck the Gulf of Mexico coast on Monday, August 29.

Hurricane victims in need of rescue have contacted 911 call centers and the LDWF, which has been centrally involved in water rescue efforts. These stranded individuals have provided street addresses for their locations. Unfortunately, street addresses alone are not enough information in some scenarios. For example, many of the responders are from outside the affected area and have no knowledge of the vicinities they are being asked to navigate. Another problem arises when streets are under water and emergency responders are tasked to find individuals at very specific yet spatially unmoored locations: reference points normally used are now obscured.

In response, the Louisiana State Police requested the assistance of USGS scientists to provide “geo-addressing” to supplement street addresses by providing longitudinal and latitudinal coordinates. Depending upon the needs of emergency responders, these coordinates are then expressed in a variety of ways. For example, emergency responders who are not equipped with functioning Global Positioning System equipment might request maps with geographic coordinates overlaid upon grids of street addresses. Responders who do have functioning GPS equipment might request the coordinate data in a digital form that can be sent directly to GPS equipment.

The USGS scientists provide the desired coordinate information to the LGS, who then distributes it to a variety of governmental agencies participating in search and recovery efforts. The LGS has worked with at least 20 agencies in these efforts, and the USGS has currently assisted with thousands of calls (and sometimes e-mail messages) from stranded hurricane victims, either directly or indirectly via individuals who know where victims are stranded. In these efforts, USGS scientists have produced over 3,000 tabloid maps and 40 poster maps.

In addition to their work linking geographic coordinates and street addresses, the USGS is also providing mapping support for a variety of governmental agencies. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, for example, has sought USGS assistance to provide up-to-date maps of the New Orleans levee system. Along with these maps, the USGS has also provided USACE with geo-coded addresses for water pumps located in the city.

With assistance from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the USGS has also been providing geospatial support at the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s command post in Metairie, La. Maps and spatial data are provided to various task forces from numerous state and federal agencies to aid in recovery activities. Geospatial products are updated daily and are delivered to recovery teams every morning prior to their deployment.

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