A humanitarian crisis is unfolding in the wake of the recent earthquake in Nepal. Devastated villages are cut off from contact leaving them with no means to get vital medical, food and housing aid. The capital of Kathmandu is devastated as the Nepali government struggles, with the aid of the international community, to address the basic needs of its people. The limited transportation infrastructure, including its main airport, have suffered damage. With the monsoon rains approaching, time is of the essence to get aid to survivors.
Not unlike during the Haiti earthquake, aid agencies and relief organizations lack sufficient information on the location of villages, roads, schools, hospitals and other basic elements of the built environment. The 2010 quake lead to a grassroots effort in which mapping specialists and lay people digitized roads, buildings and other features from satellite and aerial imagery. The results were immediately used by field crews who updated details on roads, buildings and utilities. As a result many lives were saved.
In Nepal this same crowd-mapping approach is being refined using platforms such as Open Street Map and CrowdMap. Easy-to-use tools allow anyone with Internet access to trace roads, walking trails, bridges and structures. Additional data such as high resolution elevation models can aid in assessing landslide risks and determining the location of river drainages. Maps of road and rail networks can further inform officials and relief workers. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs or drones) can be sent into inaccessible areas to assess damage conditions.
Geospatial technologies broadly describes the various technologies that are enabling these relief efforts. Digital maps are linked to databases which store a wide array of data and attributes. These geographic information systems (GIS) enable data collection, logistics planning, scenario analysis, and the creation of maps and visualizations. Global positioning systems (GPS), which calculate ground coordinates from satellites, are now found in all cell-phones and myriad other devices. Coupled with new apps, field data collection and mapping can be performed with a minimum of training.
Geospatial professionals in the North State deploy GIS, GPS and image processing to address needs and opportunities in resource management, transportation planning, conservation, and social services in our region and beyond. Agencies, businesses and non-profit organizations gain efficiencies and other benefits from deploying these technologies with trained employees. Furthermore, volunteers from the Redding Area GIS Users (RAGU) group and the Far North Regional GIS Council (FNRGC) undertake community mapping of resources, services, trails, and alternative transportation routes.
The availability of geographic data, including imagery and digital maps, has proliferated in recent years. The situation in Nepal, however, demonstrates the need to expand and refine data that is essential to our understanding of the built and natural environment. One regional resource is FarNorCalGIS.org, sponsored the Shasta Regional Transportation Agency and Shasta College, with technical assistance from Vestra Resources. Users can access interactive maps, GIS data, and information about local events and employment. Supporting and contributing organizations include the cities of Redding and Shasta Lake, and the counties of Shasta, Siskiyou and Tehama. Other local GIS-enabled organizations include Enplan, North State Resources, BLM, Alpine-LIS, US Forest Service, CalFire, Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Western Shasta RCD.
On May 7 the GIS Program at Shasta College will host a free digital mapping workshop and map gallery. Faculty, which include GIS professionals from private and public sectors, will lead hands-on activities to demonstrate basic GIS capabilities for exploring existing data. Participates will also contribute to the mapping of trails and buildings in Nepal, in support of relief efforts. The application of GIS for local transportation planning will be demonstrated, including field data collection techniques. A gallery of GIS student maps and projects will be on display in the foyer of the library. Gift certificates and other prizes will be awarded to participants who can correctly identify places in the region from aerial imagery. The event will be held in the Shasta College main campus Library from 3 – 6 pm on Thursday, May 7. Further details can be found at www.shastacollege.edu/gis or by calling 242-2314.
Geographic Information Systems Program at Shasta College
The rapidly evolving geospatial landscape requires on-going training and education. Shasta College’s Geospatial Technology and GIS Program offers courses, certificate and degree that are geared toward providing the essential knowledge and skills for the workforce. Support of the GIS professional community is a hallmark of the GIS Program. In addition to providing opportunities for students to gain contacts and work experience , faculty bring diverse and applied experience.
Faculty: Dan Scollon, GIS Program Coordinator and Instructor, has been a full-time faculty of Geography, Geographic Information Systems and Natural Resources at Shasta College since 1996. He developed participatory mapping program with the Borneo Project, which has been active since 1994 and has worked with a variety of local organizations on implementing GIS.
Adjunct Faculty, Devon Hedemark manages the City of Redding’s GIS Department and has deployed interactive maps and field collection using tablet devices.
Charles Shoemaker, GIS Manager at North State Resources, directs environmental management projects around the region.
Cassie Hansen, GIS specialist for the Dunsmuir-based FireWhat? has lead efforts to bring GIS technology to fire response and recently initiated field mapping following the Weed fire.