In resiliency, if we’re not focused on data and technology, we’re in trouble

November 15, 2017 Josh Human

Data collection and its impact on our risk should be a no-brainer, but is it? GIS and information management helps give a clear picture

The term “resiliency” has become quite the buzzword in the engineering and disaster community the past several years. But what does resiliency really mean? I’m focused on evaluating and enhancing a community’s resilience by using data and technology. We’re really trying to identify assets—infrastructure, buildings, people, etc.—and then assess the risk associated with each one. Many municipalities, organizations, and institutions don’t know where their assets are located—either geographically or digitally. They are using multiple databases to manage their information. And that information is disorganized from a variety of perspectives.

That disorganization is a huge issue when you talk about risk and vulnerability. For example, with flooding, including sea level rise, identifying the risk areas from a geographic standpoint is key. If we don’t have a solid geographical representation of our hazards or documentation about our assets, we’re unwittingly increasing our level of vulnerability. This concept is not just important to our cities, it is becoming more important to our business community too. Here’s the bottom line: when our municipalities and local businesses are at risk, our communities and families are vulnerable—and less resilient!

Resilience is such a vast topic, but I think if we focus on how geographic information systems (GIS) and information management can move the conversation forward, it makes sense and helps put the subject in perspective. GIS brings together several layers of data. When we pull this data together and analyze it geospatially, we can start to understand a clear picture of risk-associated events. Most, if not all, of those events are geospatial in nature.

To start, you need geographic asset information as your base minimum. Then you can add various layers of data—like the age, condition, first floor elevation, and maintenance required for each asset—to further determine risk. Generally, cities are doing a decent job of managing this data, but we should expect better. This may seem like an “old school” concept, but people really are still figuring out how to use data and GIS for data analysis that can provide real tools for decision makers.

In some communities, disaster management functions occur in silos. Resilience Enterprise Planning Systems gives officials a common platform to share information and break down those silos.

Within Stantec, we have recognized a need to help our clients develop information systems that bring data sets together to help create more resilient communities. We call this process Resilience Enterprise Planning Systems (REPS).

In Kentucky, state officials recognized the lack of organization around their data meant they were vulnerable and less efficient in funding resilience/mitigation projects. That recognition is how the CHAMPS program came to fruition. CHAMPS—Community Hazard Assessment and Mitigation Planning System—is Kentucky’s answer to their growing desire to better organize and access data to support community resilience planning and promote more efficient and transparent mitigation dollar allocation. 

A few years ago, Kentucky officials began embracing the concept of resilience and recognized that a comprehensive data management system was needed if they wanted to better serve their communities. Our team worked with Kentucky Emergency Management (KyEM), Kentucky Department for Local Government (DLG), and other partners on the solution—a web-enabled information management and workflow support application. CHAMPS allows users to coordinate public outreach and identify and manage multiple mitigation projects after a disaster has occurred. It serves as a central repository for all hazard mitigation actions and is accessible to various user-groups, all in real-time.

Using our knowledge gained from developing CHAMPS, we are currently working with the State of Tennessee to develop the Tennessee Resilience Enterprise Planning System (TREPS). TREPS will help the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development manage the 10 projects they received funding for from the HUD National Disaster Resilience Competition, which totals $44.5 million. TREPS will also provide a platform/system for developing resilience throughout the State.

Resilience Enterprise Planning has special meaning to me, as I’ve brought my background in GIS/information management together with decades of experience managing mitigation and resiliency planning for institutions into a cohesive system. Developing more REPS for other cities and states has the potential to change the resilience landscape by bringing together information and technology to enhance how we approach this topic within our communities. With REPS development, our team is helping change the way communities respond to disasters, and keeping people safe is why I am so passionate about what I do. 


About the Author

Josh Human

Josh Human is a leader in our disaster management and resilience practice. He brings expertise in the fields of hazard mitigation planning, resilience planning, recovery planning, Geographic Information System (GIS) assessment modeling, hazard research, and community engagement.

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