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How GIS is Saving the Day – 5 GIS Tools for Disaster Management

Earthquakes, landslides, floods and fires are just a handful of natural disasters that devastate areas, with some never fully recovering. Lives are lost, infrastructure is destroyed and entire communities are forced to leave their homes behind.

However, the way we handle emergency relief today has been entirely revolutionised thanks to the surge in use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS).

A GIS is a commanding technology that utilise the power of location based data. It can be used before, during and after natural disasters to significantly contribute to the emergency management of catastrophic situations.

Through monitoring, data collection, impact assessment and disaster simulation, the power of GIS is changing the way we pick ourselves up after an extraordinary event.

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Importing and Exporting Data

When disaster strikes, information can be the difference between life and death. Being armed with as much information and data as possible assists with prevention, preparedness, relief and recovery.

Mappt is a prime example of a GIS application that can offer substantial support during disaster relief.

The mobile application has the power to import GIS data, such as satellite imagery, electrical grids, maps of gas and water pipes, and provide the rescuer who’s out in the field with information they cannot see.

When disaster areas are covered in debris, flooded or up in flames, Mappt allows users to see what existed previously beneath their feet when searching for survivors or assessing damages.

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Offline

If the disaster zone’s internet access has been compromised, Mappt still allows users to access previously uploaded maps and data.

Once back online it is vital that the collected information is published and shared quickly and directly with relevant parties

Mappt also allows users to embed data onto a website, send files directly via email or upload to Google Drive, all within minutes!

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Geotagged Photos

Being able to capture data exactly where it happened is also critical in disaster management.

Photographing and documenting damages not only provides emergency management with the extent of damages, but also assists in the determination of how and where a disaster first struck.

Having geotagged photos – photos with a GPS location – on a map significantly contributes to disaster relief and recovery, as they’re a far better visual aid than an ambiguous marker point, therefore ensuring rapid situation assessments.

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GPS Tracking

Continuously tracking emergency service workers is essential to coordinating disaster relief and immediate responses.

Because of Mappt’s advanced map tile caching, the application enables offline GPS tracking.

This allows users to roam in areas with no internet access, yet still access the exact patterns of their movements when out in the field.

Analyzing data involves tracking areas covered by emergency workers, making it ideal for off road route planning, calculating distances and helping workers find their way back to base.

Having this type of geospatial information at hand assists in decision making and resource allocation for emergency planners.

Geofencing

Disaster sites are extremely dangerous after a natural disaster, so keeping workers safe when entering hazardous zones is crucial.

Geofencing allows users to set up perimeters on their map to mark out exclusion and inclusion zones and keep workers safe or on track. It also provides the basis for vulnerability and hazard assessments.

If a user breaches a boundary, Mappt will sound a visual and audial alarm, and the event will be logged.

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Points, Lines and Polygons

Flagging important areas or plotting key positions on a map, such as dangerous areas, survivors or debris, is extremely important in disaster management.

Mappt has several simple tools to create a personal and completely unique dataset using points, polylines and polygons.

Users can change the colour and style of points, customise line styles, and edit the opacity of the area within a polygon.

Our GIS also allows users to assign attributes to each feature, so you’ll know exactly why you highlighted a section.

This could be used to mark out flooded areas, burnt vegetation or a point of damage.

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Disaster Proof!

In disaster relief, GIS is an invaluable tool for emergency management. GIS has an enormity of uses as it can manage huge levels of data required for vulnerability and hazard assessments.

When combined with GPS, geospatial tools assist in the search for survivors in areas that are difficult to access or see. They can also be used for planning evacuation routes and the integration of satellite data with other relevant data when designing early warning systems.

GIS can also be used to prepare complex prediction models, spatial databases and assist in creating appropriate contingency plans.

To sum it up – emergency management would be a disaster without GIS!

Mappt differs from other GIS platforms with its easy to use features, mobile and tablet integration, offline capability and our very affordable licenses.

Businesses in over 130 countries use our software due to its friendly interface and easy to use features, making Mappt the perfect GIS for those who need to act fast.

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Ssiobhan-profile2iobhan Herne
Marketing and Communications

Siobhan has no background in GIS, she’s a beginner, just like you. Follow her stories for an easier digest of all things geospatial.

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Importing Shapefiles into Mappt

There are several options for importing Shapefiles into Mappt.  This post will cover the two most common ways: importing from your tablet’s local filesystem and importing from Google Drive.

We will also briefly touch on the Coordinate Systems supported by Mappt.

Importing from Local Filesystem

Mappt supports both internal and external (e.g. flash card) storage options, which can provide a convenient method of transferring data to tablets.

To copy files to the tablet, connect the tablet to your desktop or laptop computer via USB cable.  Note that you may need to install drivers onto your computer in order for your tablet to be recognised by your desktop machine.

Once connected, browse to the tablet from your computer.

Copy the files to the tablet, in an easy-to-remember place.  We suggest placing them into the tablet’s Downloads folder.  Be sure to copy all of the required files – Mappt requires the .shp, .shx and .dbf files to all be copied.

Once the files are on the tablet, you can import them into Mappt by tapping the Import button down the lower left:

Screenshot of the Import button in Mappt

Then tap Load DATA:

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Then tap Load Dataset from Filesystem:

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You can then browse to where you copied the files to, tapping the .shp file to import it into Mappt.

The dataset should then appear as a new layer in the Layer List on the left-hand side of the screen. Tapping the layer, or one of the contained features will zoom to the feature on the map.

The layout of the filesystems can vary greatly across tablet manufacturers, so you may have to hunt around to find your Downloads folder.  If you would rather not bother with filesystem layouts, you can use Google Drive instead.

Import from Google Drive

You can also open the files directly from Google Drive, by tapping the Import button, then selecting Load DATA, then Open From Google Drive, as seen in the following screenshot:

Screenshot of the Open From Google Drive button in Mappt

You may be prompted to specify which Google account you would like to access, as well as allowing Mappt to access your Google Drive account.  Mappt can only access your Drive files if you allow it.

Once you have permitted Mappt to access Google Drive, you will be presented with a familiar Open File dialog.  Navigate to where your Shapefile is stored, then open it by tapping the .shp file.  Mappt will download the necessary files and import the Shapefile into the project.

For convenience, any files downloaded from Google Drive will be placed into a Downloads folder within the Mappt folder (by default, located at /Downloads/Mappt).  This means that, once you have downloaded a file from Google Drive, you can re-import the file at any time without requiring an Internet connection – handy for working in the field.

Coordinate Systems Supported by Mappt

By default, Mappt supports data in the WGS84 format (albeit using decimal degrees as the unit).  When exporting your Shapefiles, we recommend using the format defined by EPSG code 4326.

Mappt also supports UTM formats (in decimal degrees units), which can be configured from the Settings dialog before you import the Shapefile, as seen in the following screenshot:

Screenshot of the Coordinate System setting in Mappt
The Coordinate System setting will apply when both importing and exporting Shapefiles.

Using Mappt to Collect Data in the Field, Part 3 of 3

This is the final installment in our 3-part series, which has been offering a simple user story that could form a workflow basis to be adopted by new or existing Mappt users.

If you haven’t read them, take a look at part 1, “Preparation,” here and part 2, “In the Field,” here.  Part 1 dealt with preparing your tablets and datasets, while part 2 covered importing, updating and exporting job data while in the field.

Returning to Base

Once you return to base, you will want to get your captured data off the tablet.

Within Mappt, this can be achieved by selecting a layer and then exporting the layer to email. Your tablet will then present a list of installed apps that will offer to transmit the data for you. This will include apps that are not email-centric, but are otherwise great options for sending data. For example, if you have Google Drive or other cloud-based storage solution installed, you will be able to upload your data there.

Google Drive (and other cloud-based storage apps) provide great ways to collaborate on data and combine datasets.

Another option is to simply email the data, perhaps to a team leader or other staff member responsible for coordinating data changes.

Screenshot of the Open From Google Drive button in Mappt

You can also export the data to a removable flash card and copy the files to the computer where you may have tools for integrating back into the project.

A final option is to plug your tablet into a computer via the USB cord and copy the files that way.

Integration

Integrating the data back into your project datasets is a matter of much greater discussion, involving concerns such as conflicts, merging, authority, etc. and will not be covered here.  As suggested above, this may be something that is handled by a nominated member of your team, using tools designed specially for this purpose.

Finally

We hope that the topics covered in this 3-part series have provided some tips on developing your own workflows.  Be sure to post your thoughts in the comments, as we love hearing user stories!

Using Mappt to Collect Data in the Field, Part 2 of 3

This is part 2 in a 3-part series that offers a simple User Story that could form the basis of a workflow to be adopted by new or existing Mappt users.

If you haven’t already, we suggest reading part 1, “Preparation” here, which discussed preparing your tablets and datasets for work in the field.

In the Field

When performing your duties in the field, you will import your Project Datasets into Mappt to assist in locating assets and referring to job information.  As suggested in phase 1, project datasets should not be edited; instead, data captured in the field should be logged into smaller, job template datasets.

When commencing a job, a new template should be imported and updated as the job progresses.

A good job template will allow you to easily capture new data while providing the structure necessary to capture quality, error-free data.  For Shapefiles, this would mean that the job template contains a pre-defined set of attributes, guiding the user to enter relevant data into the correct places.

If your work is conducted in an Internet-connected area, you may consider hosting and distributing your datasets over Google Drive via a shared folder.  Doing this will allow your administrative teams to provide consistently accurate datasets to your team, without the need to redistribute datasets via email or other manual methods.

Custom offline imagery can be loaded to assist with navigation in combination with the tablet’s GPS hardware. If your imagery is high-quality and correctly geo-referenced, you can use the imagery to position features on the map with a high degree of accuracy. This is perfect for when the GPS hardware is not accurate enough.

Thematic Mapping (previously known as Classifications) can be applied to larger datasets to locate features with certain attributes.  For example, consider a dataset containing markers that represent assets to be inspected, with an INSPECTED YES/NO attribute, indicating whether the asset requires inspection.  Using Thematic Mapping, the markers could be styled green to highlight the markers to be inspected, providing an easy method to visually indicate work to be done.

thematic mapping

Completing the Job

Once data has been obtained and the job complete, any captured data layers can be exported to the local storage of the tablet before moving on to the next job.

In phase 3, we will outline some options for retrieving the recorded data from the tablet for re-integration back into the project.

Using Mappt to Collect Data in the Field, Part 1 of 3

In the Mappt cave we are always interested in the workflows and procedures our customers employ when using Mappt in the field.

We find that most of these workflows consist of the same base necessities, regardless of the industry-specific nature of the work.

Over the next couple of posts, we will outline a simple 3-phase User Story that could form the basis of a workflow to be adopted by new or existing Mappt users. This workflow is presented from the perspective of managing a small team of Mappt users for a particular project, but applies equally to one Mappt user performing a single job.

The phases are:

  • Preparation
  • In the Field
  • Returning to Base

This post will cover phase 1, “Preparation,” with posts for phase 2 and 3 coming in the following weeks.

Preparation

The Preparation Phase would involve gathering the relevant datasets and imagery to be deployed to the tablets. Ideally, the datasets and other files created during this phase would be deployed to the tablets just once, and remain relevant for the duration of the project.

One suggestion is to categorise your data into these groups:

Project Datasets

Project datasets (Shapefiles, ECW files, etc) that are relevant to the project as a whole. For example, a dataset for a project involving inspection parks may contain a spatial database of all parks to be inspected throughout the course of the project.

Screenshot showing an example Project Dataset

In this example, the Project Dataset consists of all of the parks to be inspected by field staff.

Job Templates

Job Templates are generally near-empty Shapefiles or Mappt Project files whose main purpose is to act as a template for data entry. This allows data to be collected in a uniform way, which is then exported on a per-job basis for re-integration into project datasets back at base.

Screenshot showing an example Job Template.

Note that as in the example above, Job Template Shapefiles must have at least one dummy feature defined; an empty Shapefile can not exist.  Once imported into Mappt, this dummy feature can be deleted.

Summary

The focus in the Preparation Phase is to create datasets that will require minimal manual handling or administrative intervention once the project commences. These datasets are deployed to tablets before the tablets are issued to staff.

This is especially useful for projects that require long-term disconnection from the Internet, whereby all relevant datasets can be copied to the device back at base, before transporting the tablets to the remote location.

Tune in next week for Phase 2: In the Field