[Book Review] Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for Disaster Management—Brian Tomaszewski
Mon, 05 Nov 2018 || By Muhammad Rasyid Ridho

       gis for disaster management book

       We just witnessed several catastrophic moments in our nation's history. Not long after the devastating earthquake in Lombok, another massive earthquake happened at Palu, followed by a tsunami. Damages on buildings, infrastructures, and deaths are inevitable. For the government and many NGOs, giving the supply of disaster relief for the victim becoming their number one priority.

      In the digital era, where many tools and new technologies invented, one question may pop up in our mind: can natural disaster be prevented with technology? To answer this question, we can take a look on Tomaszewski explanation on the not-so-new thing called Geographical Information System (GIS). This system becomes one of the most influential sources for decision-making process and information management role in disaster management. It provides data to assess the situation and recognize vital elements in the affected location. The well-known GoogleMap and OpenStreet are also the component of how the disaster management works since both are providing information on possible places for evacuating.

       What is GIS? GIS, in essence, is a system that gathers, manage, analyze, and present spatial or geographical data. Tomaszewski elaborates GIS, as a framework, as the interrelatedness between four components: software for running the GIS, hardware to allow the software to run (ranging from PCs to smartphones), people (or organization) who operate it, like United Nations Geographical Information Working Group (UNGWG), and knowledge which include training, educations, and skills which beneficial for running the GIS. These components, operates in synergy, are what constitutes the GIS.

       The overall explanation in the book can be very technical for general readers. However, it is seen that the author also tried to explain the basic terms used in the context of GIS, from the difference between data and information, scale, types of maps and projections from the geographical perspective. Therefore, it may help the general readers to understand the basic idea of the GIS.

       He also defines the sequences on how to deal with disasters starting from the preparedness/planning, response, recovery, and mitigation. Regarding response, this book explains that people can also be the responders –besides the GIS– to a disaster. Recalling the experience of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, netizen –which are also the victims– are intensively active in social media like Twitter to tell their conditions and necessities. Corresponding to this, and the massive spread of social media, there is a new unique concept called crowdsourcing. It means, the data reporting is not limited to the experts only, but it is now encompassing the public or “crowd”.

      Examples of GIS utilization are listed based on national scope, whether it is local, state, and federal level, based on the United States' experience.  In the local level, not many areas adapt GIS, meanwhile, in states and federal level, GIS is very common to use. The peculiar practice in state-level –equivalent with the provincial level in Indonesia–, there is a GIS interstate online forum to share data from their respective town, village, and county. Not only governmental-based GIS utilization, but there are also many from international organizations, such as MapAction Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) and UN-SPIDER

       With all the sophisticated technology and digitalization in the GIS, it does not necessarily mean that GIS turns into a panacea for facing any disasters. To acquire a satisfying result from GIS, it depends on the quality of the data and software, and the skills from those who utilize the software, do the analysis and modeling the maps. The high cost of maintenance, such as hours spends on collecting and editing data, or even the price of purchasing data from a vendor such as Navteq should also come into the calculation of the utilization of GIS.

       In the end, Tomaszewski puts his concern on the future of GIS. Two things he underlines related to the technology are the development of serious games and big data. The first one, serious games, is linked with the utilization of GIS tools with simulation games scenarios which can improve the awareness of disaster planning. Second, the concern regarding big data is primarily related to the massive amount of data and also the validity of the data collected. Caution is needed in interpreting the result of geographic information because there are always differences between the geographic database and the real-world condition.

       While this book might be better enjoyed by those who are already working in geographic-related discipline, general readers can also get new insights from the basic explanation of GIS. Aside from the technical explanation on the utilization of GIS tools, Tomaszewski also brings up the social context where society can also contribute to disaster mitigation plan, which general readers can also relate. With Indonesia’s current natural disaster landscape, this book is beneficial for anyone who may be working in an emergency response team or disaster management agency.

Editor: Treviliana Eka Putri

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