Government and non-government agencies responding to the Ebola crisis in Africa are getting tech help from a major Southern California mapping software firm. .
Redlands-based Esri — known for its mapping software systems used by governments to track and analyze a range of data — is gathering information from West Africa, where the disease has struck the hardest, and is categorizing it to make maps and mapping systems.
And scientists need all the help they can get to halt that spread.
They are racing to develop ways to prevent or treat the virus that has killed more than 5,600 people in West Africa, most of them in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Esri’s geographic information systems software gathers useful information and categorizes the data visually and colorfully on maps for use.
“We have teams today in West Africa and Geneva and (Washington) D.C. who are monitoring and managing, visualizing, analyzing and using statistical tools to track the Ebola crisis,” said Jack Dangermond, founder and president of Esri, the world’s fourth-largest privately held software company.
The technology has a wide variety of applications for governments, nonprofits and public health responders, according to Esri officials.
The software allows people trying to stop the virus to trace the numbers of people infected — a process called contact tracing.
“So you might look at one individual and figure out where they’ve traveled, where they’ve been and figure out what kinds of populations have been impacted,” said Estella Geraghty, chief medical officer for Esri.
Agencies are also using Esri’s mapping technology to locate where Ebola treatment centers are located, where they’re being placed and where they’re planned for the future.
“What is the bed capacity at these places? How might a sick person get to that location,” Geraghty said. “All of those issues of access to care are relevant to a map.”
The software has also been used to track potential areas where an outbreak may have begun, Geraghty said.
“Another thing that the CDC has done with mapping technology is look at cell phone tower traffic in Liberia,” she said. “For example, there was a phone number people could call for Ebola information and we could look at cell phone towers that were tracking that particular phone number and find out where there was the most usage of that number. And you compare that to the number of the underlying population and see if a population might be a little more anxious, and that might indicate a new are of outbreak before you would have known it otherwise.”
The company’s free GIS web service, called ArcGIS, also has collected a number of informational maps on Ebola for the public. Some of the public maps show the status of laboratories supporting the Ebola response, cumulative cases and a map of Ebola outbreaks throughout history.
The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) has, under the Department of Defense, recently launched a public website to help in global relief efforts against the spread of Ebola. The new website uses Esri’s ArcGIS platform hosted on the cloud, according to an NGA notice.
Government and non-government agencies would be able to use the data to help with planning, logistics, treatment and care of patients, officials said.
“Data, especially in this part of the world, and especially when you have so many response organizations trying to get something done,... is really important,” Geraghty said.
©2014 the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin (Ontario, Calif.)