Course manual Introduction to Disaster Management

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Unit summary


In this unit you learned about culture and how cultural beliefs and values determine people’s responses to education and public awareness programmes on disaster management. Every society has unique cultural values, practices, social organisation and knowledge which can influence their perception of events, processes and concepts and which in turn determines how they respond to information presented to them. Agents conducting education and awareness programmes need to be sensitive to a society’s culture especially if they are not members of the society. This can ensure that members of a society are more receptive of these programmes and are readily prepared to accept and implement them effectively.



Imagine you are part of a team carrying out awareness campaigns on disaster management. You are going to present an informative talk at your local community hall.

Task: Prepare a write-up of a short speech (800-1000 words long) highlighting at least three cultural issues for people to be aware of in preparation for a disaster.

The following marking criterion shows you how to organise and what to include in your write-up. It also shows how marks are distributed for your work.


Introduction: Introduce the term/ idea of ‘disaster management’. Give examples of disasters that audience is familiar with. State what your talk will be about. (4 marks)

Body: Cultural Issue 1 (Include elaboration and relevant examples) -(6 marks)

Cultural Issue 2 (Include elaboration and relevant examples) (6 marks) ,

Cultural Issue 3 (Include elaboration and relevant examples (6 marks)

Conclusion: Reiterate main points in a brief summary. (4 marks)

References and Visual Aids: Include references that you have consulted and attach copies of posters, leaflets or other informative aids you plan to distribute to your audience. (4 marks)

Total: 30 marks



State whether the following statements are True or False.

  1. Education and Public Awareness programmes are based entirely on people’s cultures.

  2. English must always be used to conduct effective education and public awareness campaigns.

  3. People should be encouraged to preserve indigenous knowledge systems during education and public awareness campaigns.

  4. At Education and Public Awareness campaigns the use of herbal medicine during disasters needs to be discouraged.

  5. A person’s culture greatly influences the way he/ she responds to a message in an education and public awareness campaign.


1 T; 2 F; 3 T; 4 F; 5 T.


“HIV/ AIDS and Australia’s International Approach” (2004) Accessed on 26/01/08 at:

Bankoff, G., (2002) Cultures of Disaster: Society and Natural Hazards in the Philippines. Routledge, London

Unit 8

The Role of Technology in Disaster Management


While the role of technology could easily be integrated into various subtopics on emergency and disaster management (EDM) we present it as a stand alone unit. Quite often the role of technology in EDM is presented as an afterthought or simply omitted. In this unit we have tried to be as basic as possible. If you wish to delve deeper into this subject matter we have provided links for suggested reading and further study.

We start with a discussion of emergency management systems (EMS). EMS are merely technological tools that are expertly used to improve and enhance the EDM process. We will examine specifically the role that Geographical Information Systems (GIS), Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and Remote Sensing Technologies play in disaster management. While these subjects are presented individually, it is important to note that in reality these technologies are usually deployed in an integrated manner.

Upon completion of this unit you will be able to:


  • Define Emergency Management Systems (EMS);

  • Identify how the EMS assists in hazard materials management, emergency medical services, and response and recovery operations;

  • Identify a key strategy that aids continuous improvements of emergency management systems;
  • Define Global Information Systems (GIS);

  • Identify four disaster-related activities to which a GIS application is useful;

  • State the advantages and challenges of using GIS in disaster management;

  • Explain how GIS is utilised within all phases of the disaster management cycle;

  • Define Global Positioning Systems (GPS);

  • Explain how GPS technology can be useful in disaster management;

  • Define Remote Sensing Systems (RSS);

  • Distinguish between passive and active RSS;

  • Explain how RSS technology can be useful in disaster management;

  • State the advantages and disadvantages of using RSS in disaster management.


Emergency Management:

The management of emergencies concerning all-hazards, including all activities and risk management measures related to prevention and mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery.

Blackbody radiation:
Refers to an object or system which absorbs all of the electromagnetic radiation that falls onto it; the object or system then re-radiates this energy. The energy that is re-radiated is characteristic of the radiating system from which it is emitted, not its original source.
Electro magnetic spectrum
The electromagnetic (EM) spectrum is the range of all possible electromagnetic radiation.
Electromagnetic wave
Method of travel for radiant energy, so called because radiant energy has both magnetic and electrical properties.
Infrared radiation

Electromagnetic radiation whose wavelengths lie in the range from 0.75 micrometer to 1000 micrometers.

Infrared sensors

This is an electronic device which measures infrared light radiating from objects in its field of view.

A series of satellites that produce images of the earth.

Microwave radiation

Electromagnetic radiation composed of photons carrying less energy than infrared photons but more energy than radio photons.


Energy that is radiated or transmitted in the form of rays or waves or particles.


An electronic device used to measure a physical quantity such as temperature, pressure or loudness and convert it into an electronic signal of some kind.


The distance between identical points in the adjacent cycles of a waveform signal propagated in space or along a wire.

Emergency Management Systems

What is Emergency Management?

Emergency management is a discipline that involves the avoidance of risks, while simultaneously putting plans in place to deal with disasters and emergency situations if and when they do occur with a view to re-build and restore society to a functional level in as short a time as possible after a disaster. Emergency management is therefore a shared responsibility between government and citizens of a country towards building a sustainable, disaster-resilient society.

The ultimate purpose of emergency management is to:

  • save lives

  • preserve the environment

  • protect property

  • protect the economy

What are Emergency Management Systems (EMS)?

Emergency management systems are technological aids that facilitate the effective management of disasters. EMS technology can assist in several areas that are critical to effective disaster management, such as:

  • Drafting and testing of evacuation and general disaster plans (Evacuation Plans).

  • Establishment of shelters as well as informing the public of shelter locations, items that should be taken to the shelter and general “shelter behaviour”.

  • Training personnel in effective shelter management, basic first aid and other “response” skills (Manpower).

  • Establish a national warehouse and ensure that it is stocked with items for national survival in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, before the arrival of overseas help (Materials).

  • Setting-up reliable communication systems, such as, the traditional two-way CB-type radios (Communication).

  • Putting transportation plans in place, which should include air transportation to facilitate air-lifts and rescues, delivery of food supplies to severely affected areas cut-off from vehicular traffic and comprehensive damage assessment activity (Transportation).

Figure 5: Diagram showing several disaster-related areas impacted by EMS
How useful is EMS?

EMS can also add tremendous value to disaster management in the following generic areas:
  • Hazardous Materials Management

  • Emergency Medical Services

  • Response and Recovery

Hazardous Materials Management (HAZMAT):

EMS can be used to provide safe and secure transportation of hazardous material by air, sea and land. More specifically, devices can be used to track HAZMAT shipments and notify management centres when a shipment deviates from its intended route.

Emergency Medical Services:

Automated collision notification systems can be used to detect vehicle collisions or other incidents requiring emergency responders. The system notifies emergency personnel and provides them with valuable information on the incident.

Response and Recovery:

Sensors are used to help provide an early warning system to detect large-scale emergencies such as natural disasters. Systems also exist that facilitate the sharing of emergency information across multiple response agencies to facilitate greater cooperation and coordination among them.

Figure 6: Diagram giving specific examples of EMS at work

EMS and the Disaster Management Cycle:

It is important to note that the proper usage of technology can improve the effectiveness of disaster management systems to aid the process of prevention, mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery.

Prevention and Mitigation
Effective disaster management seeks to prevent hazards from developing into “full-blown” disasters and further reduce the impact of disasters if and when they occur. Inventory systems, Tracking, Detection, Driver authentication and Route planning software are technological tools that can be used to aid in the process of disaster prevention and mitigation.

  1. Inventory systems:

Databases exist to help monitor inventory levels of critical supplies and equipment on a continuous basis to ensure that adequate supplies are available to cover the upward surge in demand that generally accompany disaster and emergency situations.

  1. Tracking systems:

Vehicle-mounted hardware provide the capability to track Hazard Management (HAZMAT) cargo and support the notification of management centres when a shipment deviates from its intended route.

  1. Detection:

Roadside detectors can monitor for the presence of hazardous cargo in sensitive areas and confirm that the cargo is on the expected route.

  1. Driver Authentication:

Driver authentication technology can confirm that the individual operating a HAZMAT vehicle is authorized to do so and report operation by unexpected drivers to public safety entities.

  1. Route Planning:

EMS can provide assistance to commercial vehicle operators via electronic route planning services, ensuring compliance with HAZMAT shipment restrictions along planned travel routes.


The Preparedness component emphasizes the development of plans well in advance of the disastrous situation (or event), to reduce confusion and restore order in as short a time as possible when the disaster does happen. EMS can aid the preparedness process via technological systems such as Advanced Automated Collision notification systems (Advanced ACN) and Telemedicine.

  • Advanced ACN: Advanced automated collision notification systems use vehicle-mounted sensors and wireless communication to notify emergency personnel and provide them with valuable information on incidents such as crashes or collisions, including the exact location and characteristics of the incident and possibly relevant medical information regarding the vehicle occupants in the case of a vehicular collision.

  • Telemedicine: Telemedicine systems provide a link between responding ambulances and nearby emergency medical facilities, enabling doctors to advise emergency medical personnel regarding the treatment of patients en route to the hospital.

Response and Recovery
The Response Phase of the Disaster Management Cycle involves mobilization of emergency services to provide immediate assistance to people affected by disasters. Recovery, by extension, is concerned with issues and decisions that must be made after the initial needs resulting from the disaster are addressed. EMS technology can aid the response and recovery effort through the installation and utilization of Scheduling and Coordination software, Early Warning Systems, Evacuation and Re-entry Management, Response Management and Emergency Traveller Information systems.

  • Scheduling and Coordination software: Intricate scheduling systems can simultaneously monitor and coordinate various response activities (such as search and rescue operations, emergency medical assistance, evacuation and emergency public communication) to make the response process more efficient structured and organized.
  • Early Warning Systems: The variety of sensors deployed on the transportation infrastructure can help provide an early warning system to detect large-scale emergencies including natural disasters (hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, winter storms, tsunamis, etc.) and technological and man-made disasters (HAZMAT incidents, nuclear power plant accidents, and acts of terrorism including nuclear, chemical, biological, and radiological weapons attacks). Early warning systems monitor alerting and advisory systems, ITS sensors and surveillance systems, field reports, and emergency call-taking systems to identify emergencies and notify all responding agencies of detected emergencies.

  • Response Management: Response management may include the tracking of emergency vehicle fleets using automated vehicle location (AVL) technology and two-way communications between emergency vehicles and dispatchers. Integration with traffic and transit management systems enables emergency information to be shared between public and private agencies and the travelling public.

  • Evacuation and Re-entry Management: Evacuation operations often require a coordinated emergency response involving multiple agencies, various emergency centres, and numerous response plans. Various communication technologies can support the management of evacuations, which may also include a variety of traffic and transit management activities.

  • Emergency Traveller Information: Integration with traffic and transit management systems enables emergency information to be shared between public and private agencies and the travelling public. This communication and cooperation also enables the use of the variety of ITS information dissemination capabilities to provide emergency traveller information.

Who is responsible for EMS?

Emergency Management is a shared responsibility between government and citizens of a country towards building a sustainable, disaster-resilient society.

The Government usually exercises leadership at the national level. However, in an emergency, the first response is almost always by the municipalities or the local-governing authorities for the simple reason that disasters usually involve specific localized areas. However, should the local government require additional resources in an emergency or disaster response, then the federal government would respond quickly to any request for assistance from the local governing bodies.

The importance of partnerships

All levels of society should be involved in emergency management. Individual citizens, communities, municipalities, federal governments, emergency response personnel such as fire prevention and health workers, the private sector, volunteers, academia and international allies should all be involved in emergency management. Good partnerships based on effective collaboration, coordination and communication are a key component of emergency management systems.

Of tremendous importance, Emergency Management requires collaboration, coordination and integration to facilitate complementary action by all partners to facilitate timely and effective prevention and mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery measures to effectively deal with disasters.

EMS and Community Resilience

EMS aims to strengthen the resiliency of communities and nations by helping them to minimize the occurrence of disasters, reduce the impact and recover relatively quickly if and when disasters do occur. Resiliency minimizes susceptibility to damage from disasters by strengthening the capacity of the country to cope with, adapt to, respond, recover and learn from disasters.

Continuous Improvement

After emergencies or disasters occur, it is very important to take time to identify and document the lessons learnt from the experience. Doing so will increase future effectiveness and improve emergency management practises and processes. Recovery from any major disaster should be completed by documenting and internalizing the lessons learnt. If this is done, continuous improvement and a reduction in the recurrence of problems should result.

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Disaster Management

What does GIS mean?

Geographic Information Systems are information systems capable of integrating, storing, editing, analyzing, sharing, and displaying geographically-referenced information. In a more generic sense, GIS is a tool that allows users to create interactive queries (user created searches), analyze the spatial information, edit data, maps, and present the results of all these operations.

GIS Applications

GIS applications can be useful in the following activities:

  1. To create hazard inventory maps: At this level GIS can be used for the pre-feasibility study of developmental projects, at all inter-municipal or district level.
  2. Locate critical facilities: The GIS system is quite useful in providing information on the physical location of shelters, drains and other physical facilities. The use of GIS for disaster management is intended for planners in the early phase of regional development projects or large engineering projects. It is used to investigate where hazards can be a constraint on the development of rural, urban or infrastructural projects.

  3. Create and manage associated database: The use of GIS at this level is intended for planners to formulate projects at feasibility levels, but it is also used to generate hazard and risk maps for existing settlements and cities, and in the planning of disaster preparedness and disaster relief activities.

  4. Vulnerability assessment: GIS can provide useful information to boost disaster awareness with government and the public, so that (on a national level) decisions can be taken to establish or expand disaster management organisations. At such a general level, the objective is to give an inventory of disasters and simultaneously identify “high-risk” or vulnerable areas within the country.

GIS and the Disaster Management Cycle


The most critical stage of disaster management is the realization that there is a need for planning based on the risk that is present. The extent to which lives and properties will be spared the adverse effects of a disaster is dependent on the level of planning that takes place and the extent to which technology has been incorporated in planning efforts. GIS is useful in helping with forward planning. It provides the framework for planners and disaster managers to view spatial data by way of computer based maps.


The use of GIS in disaster management can help with structural and non-structural mitigation. GIS allows you to spatially represent areas at risk and the level of risk associated with a particular hazard, which can be a guide in decision making. It will facilitate the implementation of necessary mechanisms to lessen the impact of a potential emergency. With GIS, disaster managers are in a better position to determine the level of mitigative structures that should be in place given the vulnerability of an area or population.


As a tool, GIS can help with the identification and location of resources and “at risk” areas. It establishes a link between partners and critical agencies, which allow disaster managers to know where relevant partner agencies are stationed. In the context of disaster management, GIS maps can provide information on the human resources present in an Emergency Operation Centre as well as on the ground personnel such as security, health providers and other key responders. This is particularly useful since the technology can help with strategic placement of emergency personnel where it matters most. GIS helps to answer the question of who is to be based where and at what phase during the emergency. It can help to determine whether or not road infrastructure and communications networks are capable of handling the effects of disaster and, if necessary, guide in the placement of resources.


GIS technology can provide the user with accurate information on the exact location of an emergency situation. This would prove useful as less time is spent trying to determine where the trouble areas are. Ideally, GIS technology can help to provide quick response to an affected area once issues (such as routes to the area) are known. In the case of a chlorine explosion for example, GIS can indicate the unsafe area as well as point rescue workers to resources that are closest to the affected areas. GIS can be used as a floor guide for emergency response to point out evacuation routes, assembly points and other evacuation matters.


Mapping and geo-spatial data will provide a comprehensive display on the level of damage or disruption that was sustained as a result of the emergency. GIS can provide a synopsis of what has been damaged, where, and the number of persons or institutions that were affected. This kind of information is quite useful to the recovery process.

GIS and Emergency Shelters

GIS technology can be used by shelter operators to capture specific personal details of persons being housed at the shelter. It would also facilitate the process of stock demands and distribution. The technology would capture information on the general makeup of the shelter, that is, the number of children, adults, disabled or any other special occupants.
GIS and Distribution of Relief

“Food drops” in affected areas after a disaster is always likely to take place. The process can be helped with the use of GIS, as maps can be generated which identify the specific areas where clusters of victims are located and the unique needs of persons within these clusters.
GIS and Data Gathering

  • Special populations

With GIS, disaster managers are placed in a position where they have diagrammatic presentations of the specific location of disabled or elderly persons (for example) that reside within a community. This will make organized assistance on their behalf more efficient and time saving.

  • Most vulnerable areas

Maps can be produced to highlight more “high risk” areas that are particularly prone to disasters. This kind of information helps with planning (before the occurrence of the disaster) and also facilitates the coordination of efforts during and after the event.

Advantages of GIS

GIS as an innovative and interactive technology tool has more advantages than there are challenges.

  1. GIS has the ability to represent spatial information over a wide geographic area. GIS accommodates 3-dimensional graphics which will provide a more detailed viewed of its contents.

  2. GIS technology facilitates the integration of different geo-spatial information; which can include models, maps and other graphic forms.

  3. GIS effectively analyzes, collects, manages and distributes up-to-date information.

  4. GIS is versatile and easy to use – this requires little training to get individuals involved in the process.

  5. Attribute table which forms a database- Given that information from GIS can be easily tabulated, it provides a comprehensive pictorial overview of what is happening in the country. For example, GIS can show the exact location of shelters across the country, or the sites where search and rescue operations have taken place.

Challenges of using GIS in Disaster Management

  1. Major impacts on life of people, economy and environment. In the context of emergency management, GIS can impact people’s lives in a significant way as it reveals sometimes personal and people-specific information.
  2. Crucial decisions- Based on the information obtained from GIS mapping, it may require taking critical (sometimes hard) decisions in the best interest of the affected area.

  3. GIS being a technological tool can be complex and a bit difficult to grasp initially.

  4. Large amounts of information (input) is usually required to get useful output from the system.

  5. Time is critical during an Emergency- The decision-making process may be stalled during an emergency due to:

  • the large volume of information required by the GIS system; and

  • the vast amount of time require to analyze the information before a decision is finally made.

Who can use GIS?

GIS can be used in any area of disaster management. Among the professionals within the disaster management discipline who would find GIS useful are:

  • Emergency Planners

  • Meteorologists

  • Geologists

  • Telecommunications personnel

  • Security personnel

  • Health practitioners

Global Positioning System (GPS) and Disaster Management

What is GPS?

The term global positioning system (GPS) is used to refer to the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) developed by the United States Department of Defence. The proper name is The Navigation System with Timing And Ranging Global Positioning System (NAVSTAR GPS) however the acronym GPS is typically used. Though initially intended solely for US military purposes the GPS system was extended for civilian use in the 1980’s. Popular applications include automobile and marine navigation, tracking, farming and research.

GPS is a grouping of 24 well-spaced satellites that orbit the earth and make it possible for people with ground receivers to pin-point their exact geographic location with great accuracy. GPS equipment is widely used across the globe and is sufficiently “low-cost” so that anyone can own a GPS receiver.

Application of GPS to Disaster Management

GPS is particularly useful during disasters because it operates in any weather, anywhere and at all times. While it functions simply to give the location of the receiver, the level of precision of GPS makes it quite useful in disaster management. In many instances GPS data is integrated with GIS to overlay real-time activity during emergency. GPS find its greatest utility during the response and recovery phases; however it can also be utilized during preparedness and mitigation phases.

An important application of GPS in EDM is tracking of emergency vehicles or supplies. In this application the GPS receiver attached to the vehicle and the location is overlaid onto a map. Other applications include the monitoring the height of waves. GPS units are fixed to buoys and the height of the units are can be determined to within centimetres any significant change in wave height or velocity can trigger an alarm for a tsunami or sea surge. Volcanoes can also be monitored using GPS. By measuring the deformation of the ground, inferences about volcanic activity can be made.

Remote Sensing and Disaster Management

What is Remote Sensing?

Remote sensing is the use of electromagnetic (EM) wave radiation to acquire information about an object or phenomenon, by a recording device that is not in physical or intimate contact with the object. In other words, Remote Sensing is the acquisition of information about an object by a recording device that is NOT in physical or intimate contact with the object.

As you read this material you are actually engaging in remote sensing; we do this so naturally that we seldom realize it. We could take this a step further - we use telescopes to view distant planets. We are definitely sensing objects remotely. In both cases the sensor is our eyes and the EM wave is light. If the term EM waves seems new to you it shouldn’t. Everyday light, radio waves and microwaves and x-rays are examples of EM waves. EM waves transport energy and information from one place to another. They are used in cellular networks, microwave ovens, portable radios, x-ray machines and satellites systems.

Remote sensing in the context of disaster management usually refers to the technology that includes man-made sensors that are attached to aircrafts, or satellites. Instead of viewing a far away planet from earth, the sensing equipment is usually high above looking down at our ‘distant’ planet - earth. Distant in this context can mean just a few hundred feet overhead or miles above the earth’s surface (see Figure 7).

Figure 7: Diagram showing how Remote Sensing is operated and utilized

Returning to our first example, what happens when we turn off the light and it is “completely” dark? We can no longer sense with our eyes. However, if we were to look through a pair of night vision goggles we would be able to see. We will explain why this is possible in the next sections.

Wavelength classification in Remote Sensing

Remote Sensing is classified by three wavelength regions:

  1. Visible and Reflective Infrared Remote Sensing.

  2. Thermal Infrared Remote Sensing.

  3. Microwave Remote Sensing.

Visible and Reflective Infrared Remote Sensing

Visible and reflective infrared remote sensing uses ‘everyday’ light and infrared lasers, with wavelength ranging from approximately 0.4 to .0.8 micrometers. Usually ‘regular’ cameras or video recorders are attached to airplanes to provide aerial photos. This is the most common and inexpensive form of remote sensing. Visible remote sensing allows us to make before and after comparisons in the event of a disaster.

Thermal Infrared Remote Sensing

Night goggles are a made from a type of infrared sensor. Infrared sensors allow us to image temperature differences, such as thermal pollution in rivers which we cannot see with our naked eyes or to gauge the temperature differences near volcanoes. Infrared sensors exploit the fact that all objects emit a type of EM radiation called “blackbody radiation” at a wavelength proportional to their surface temperature. These sensors allow us to see a particular part of the electromagnetic spectrum that we would not be able to see with our naked eyes. The term electromagnetic spectrum refers to the range of EM waves with different wavelengths. In terms of wavelength, EM waves range from Gamma Rays to radio waves.

Microwave Remote Sensing

Another type of remote sensing uses microwave radiation. An important property of microwaves is that they are seldom affected by atmospheric conditions. Another useful property of microwave radiation is that it can often image beneath or through objects (just like an X-ray – another type of EM wave that we use in everyday lives). Microwaves can also image differences in the earth’s surface due to the absorption level of water or chemicals.

Passive versus Active Remote Sensing

Remote sensing can also be categorized into two broad categories: passive or active. Passive remote sensing makes use of sensors that detect the reflected or emitted EM radiation from natural sources (usually sunlight). Active remote sensing makes use of sensors that detect reflected responses from objects that are irradiated from artificially-generated energy sources, such as radars (see Figure 8 below).

Figure 8: Comparison of Active and Passive Remote Sensing
Remote Sensing Satellites

Many satellites are fitted with several sensors that can measure over two or three of the wavelength regions. An example of such a satellite is the LandSat 7 satellite, which is a part of the US Government’s NASA LandSat Program. You are encouraged to visit and read about other earth observing satellites.

Remote Sensing in Disaster Management

The data gathered from remote sensing can be used in a variety of ways to accomplish several objectives. It is usually combined with information from other data sources, and with information from on-the ground observations to get a full picture of water, land or ground activities. Remote sensing data is often integrated with GIS. There exist a wide variety of commercial and free software that allow users to view data collected from the many observing satellites referenced above.

As new technologies emerge, and with the increased incidents of natural and man-made disasters, it is necessary to employ as many of these technological advancements as possible to mitigate against the effects of disasters.

Remote Sensing and Flooding
Flooding is one of the most frequently occurring hazards. With flooding comes the risk of damage or disruption to normal living including communication, transportation, the environment and infrastructure. Given the magnitude of disruption that can take place, it may be difficult for disaster managers to gain access to remote areas or areas that have been cut off as a result of the disaster. Remote sensing as a technological tool would greatly assist this process as it would allow users of the technology the opportunity to view what is taking place in an affected area, without jeopardizing the safety of the user, since they will not actually be at the site.

It is always going to be difficult, if not impossible, for planners to identify all the areas likely to experience flooding in any location. The use of technology however, in determining flood potential could highlight features of the geography that could make the community susceptible to the hazard. Types of flooding such as flash flooding, which usually take place in a relatively short time, with little or no warning could prove potentially dangerous for disaster managers if they attempt to physically go into an area that has been experiencing continuous rainfall. While the task of providing assistance to victims is critical and time dependent, a physical presence in the affected area could increase the persons at risk. Using remote technology however, would allow response workers to stay away from danger zones while at the same time gather pertinent information to facilitate timely response, rescue and relief efforts.

Floodplain mapping is a useful indication of flood possibilities in an area and remote sensing can aid the process of identifying flood plains. The technology would generate satellite imagery of the area in question, which would allow for proper planning and timely rescue efforts should the need arise. The detailed photography produced from remote sensing provides accurate information and can restrict efforts to the affected area. Other characteristics that could be identified about a geographic region using remote sensing include land-use classification, historical data, soil coverage, and soil moisture.

Remote sensing and Hurricanes

Hurricane forecasting over the last century has improved dramatically, with experts being able to estimate the likely number of storms for a given year, intensity and possible levels of destruction. Today, this process is made even easier with the use of remote sensing technology. Trackers are able, even while the storm is in progress, to go to the core of the system in search of information. This tool, at any stage of the hurricane threat is useful in mitigating against the deadly effects that could take place. Remote sensing can allow planners to ascertain data about the features of watersheds to include drainage and density. Once obtained, this is useful information as it provides information on the capacity of the watershed to deal with the volume of water-flow that could result from rains associated with the storm.

High resolution technology, a feature of remote sensing, is useful in providing spatial data on hurricanes. Because the scales of geographic areas in remote sensing can be manipulated, users will be in a position to zoom in on specific areas for study. Storm surges and coastal flooding, which often accompany hurricanes can be better mapped using remote sensing and provide information on the level of flooding that has been experienced.

Remote sensing and Earthquakes

Development in any area with high seismic risk is always going to be problematic. Given the high volume of fault lines that extend across the breadth of geographic areas, it is inevitable that there are going to be human settlements in these areas. Considering also that there is no early warning system in place for earthquakes, emphasis must be placed on hazard mitigation to reduce the likely impact from earthquakes on lives or properties. Extensive use of remote sensing (and especially the use of satellite imaging) is critical to the planning process for earthquake preparedness. This technology will help in identifying the structural and non-structural earthquake hazards that are present and employ the most appropriate tool for minimizing these risks. LandSat imagery is one tool that is effective for this purpose given availability and cost.

After an earthquake has taken place, visibility with the naked eye, as well as access to worst affected areas may be restricted. When this happens, it becomes difficult for emergency personnel to gain access to survivors in a short period of time. Using remote sensing technology, however, would significantly improve the timeliness and quality of aid that can be provided. Activities, such as search and rescue, are best affected after major earthquakes using remote sensing. Since there will be considerable amount of debris from collapsed structures, it would be advantageous to employ the service of remote sensing for deep searching.

Remote Sensing and Volcanic Eruptions

On-the-spot seismic monitoring of volcanoes is the most effective way to monitor volcanic activity. However, it may not be practical or safe to be on-site at all times. In light of this, remote sensing is crucial to the monitoring process. Remote sensing technology can allow disaster managers to observe volcanic activities on a continuous basis without being physically on site especially at times when it would be dangerous.

Remote sensing and Landslides
Landslides usually occur with other hazards, such as flooding, hurricanes and earthquakes, but can also happen independently. Once major portions of land shift out of place, access to and general visibility of the affected area is usually severely restricted. Remotely sensed images under these conditions are useful tools in assisting planners. It presents a picture of what has taken place, and aids in the decision making process regarding the future of the affected area.

Where assessment of an area is limited due to debris and mudflow from a landslide, remote sensing could penetrate dense areas to provide critical information.

Advantages of Remote Sensing

  • Saves time

  • Users of the technology do not have to be in direct contact with danger zones.

  • Shows image of very large areas of land or space.

  • Detect features at wavelengths not visible to the human eye.

  • Data can be regularly and routinely acquired and archived.

  • The most cost-effective dataset for monitoring change over large areas.

  • Can assist with damage assessment monitoring.

  • The imagery obtained, using remote sensing, can be useful for forward planning and reconstruction of an affected area.
  • Helps to prevent the recurrence of the same disaster in the future.

Challenges faced using Remote Sensing

  • It can be costly to build and operate a remote sensing system

  • Small size activities cannot be delineated on remote sensing imagery or through aerial photography

  • Data can be difficult to interpret and may require expert skills.

  • Resolution is often coarse.


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