Mapping Hurricane Harvey

GEOINT Community contributes open data, crowdsourced mapping efforts, and more to Harvey relief


Last Friday, Hurricane Harvey brought a reign of Category 4 devastation to Southeast Texas with 51 inches of rainfall—the greatest amount ever recorded from a single storm in the continental U.S. The rainfall was so unprecedented, NPR reports the National Weather Service had to update its color charts to effectively map the intensity.

Recovery resources are spread thin, and detailed data is essential to help first responders keep up with rescue requests.

The GEOINT Community has come a long way since the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and is now leveraging open data and the power of the crowd to help provide relief to those stranded in life-threatening flood areas without food or drinking water.

To provide Harvey response teams unified situational awareness and accurate damage assessments, DigitalGlobe is updating its free Open Data Program with high-resolution before-and-after imagery documenting Harvey’s impact on communities in its path. Likewise, Planet is publishing before-and-after images from its Dove small sat constellation via its online Explorer platform. 

Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security has launched HIFLD for Harvey—a dedicated website of open data, including precipitation maps and flood polygons, primarily built in Esri’s ArcGIS platform to support responders.

Esri itself is aiding relief efforts with software, imagery, and data maps depicting real-time flood information from the National Weather Service.

Additionally, Esri is offering a crowdsourced map on ArcGIS displaying geo-tagged imagery taken by civilians on the ground in Houston and other affected areas, helping emergency managers identify priorities and plan rescues. Social media is ripe for information mining. The power of open-source intelligence gathered from platforms such as Facebook and Twitter was so strong in this storm’s wake The New York Times published a heat map of the pleas for aid.

Remote volunteers from the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association’s (URISA) GISCorps program are using ArcGIS Online to visualize geospatial data for public safety professionals struggling to navigate flooded landscapes.

Harnessing the power of data sharing and collaborative mapping, the GEOINT Community has helped first responders save lives in the immediate aftermath, and will continue to contribute to the long recovery ahead.

Photo Credit: DigitalGlobe

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