December 17, 2012 By Hilton Collins
When Hurricane Sandy struck the East Coast in October, Len Bundra didn’t back down. As the lead of IT and GIS operations for the Toms River, N.J., Municipal Utilities Authority, he knew the community’s needs were bigger than his department’s mission alone.
Bundra integrated his department’s existing Esri-based GIS mapping system with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) satellite shots to create a map of local damaged areas with layers from multiple organizations. Utility authorities use this operational intelligence to deploy resources efficiently to hard-hit locations. The map is free and public, so law enforcement and emergency management personnel also use it for their relief efforts.
This single, central Web app, Bundra says, puts every agency on equal footing because they have the same information, and the synergy enhances cross-department coordination.
“In this rebuilding effort, we need to all work together off a common map,” he said. “It doesn’t really make sense for one utility to go out there, dig up a street, fix pipe, fill it in, and then have the gas company out a week later and do the same thing.”
Features give users a bird's-eye view of the damage. Once they zoom in close enough, the map allows them to switch a layer on or off called Post-Sandy NOAA Imagery, which shows them before and after aerial photos of the affected area. They can also click the circular "map identify" tool and use it to select a parcel and generate additional aerial photos showing the area from a different angle. Other layers include those that sort data by sewer, highway and apartment layers.
Sandy struck on Monday, Oct. 29, and Bundra had the map ready to go exactly one week later, on Monday, Nov. 5. He used Amazon and Esri’s integrated, hosted Web services to create the map, and he couldn’t have come close to where he is today without them.
“If this would have happened five years ago, I couldn’t have done what I just did,” he said. “The data sharing that’s happening now via these Esri-Amazon hosted services — I couldn’t have created this Web map without that, so I think it’s helping with collaboration from the federal to the county to the municipal level on down.”
Sandy clean-up efforts will likely last for the foreseeable future, but Bundra expects his map to remain in place indefinitely. Other disasters may strike, and regardless, multiple agencies can use it for their own purposes no matter what the situation.
There are 33 municipalities in Ocean County, N.J., where Toms River is located, but departments in multiple municipalities use Bundra’s map for their own needs.
“I think this is a paradigm shift in GIS technology. I think ESRI and Amazon are the two big players in creating the shift,” Bundra said. “In the end, it’ll allow GIS to be more ubiquitous. It won’t just be rich municipalities or the municipalities with large populations that can afford GIS.”
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