The following speech was delivered by Sharleen DaBreo, Director of Disaster Management, in celebration of GIS day on 19th November 2014.
Over the next few days, events very similar to this one will be taking place all over the world. GIS Day is a day when the role of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) is recognized worldwide. It’s a time for countries to showcase how this amazing tool is transforming how we plan and how we make decisions in a world that is complicated, yet time sensitive.
I feel very privileged to be asked to make remarks at this opening ceremony but before I proceed any further I would like to take a few minutes to recognize the members of the National GIS Committee and the staff at the Town and Country Planning Department, under the leadership of Mr Greg Adams, for the outstanding work that they have done over the years; quietly behind the scenes. Whenever they have an opportunity to showcase their work it is truly amazing the extent of the baseline information that they have captured and is being used practically across every Ministry within Government and throughout a number of development agencies, by researchers, planners, architects, construction managers, environmentalists, strategic planners, students…I can go on and on but if you take some time to view the displays here today you will realise the extent of the work that has taken place over the years and how GIS has played a significant role in transforming this Territory.
This year’s theme focuses on health and safety management which, within Government is being addressed through the establishment of a formal health and safety policy. Some of you may be asking how is health and safety connected to GIS and how can this tool be used to decrease accidents and fatalities in the workplace and let’s say….since we are near one…at an active construction site. It is amazing what GIS can produce. In considering health and safety, GIS can identify the spatial risks according to the topographic and layout map of a worksite, and health and safety regulations by means of spatial queries. It enables employees and management personnel to access the possible hazards and thematic risk map of any portion of a worksite site and can easily propose mitigation measures for the identified hazards.
So for those of you who plan careers in occupational health and safety, engineering, construction management, planning, health, disaster management I want to strongly encourage you to take up every course offering in GIS. GIS can be used in any environment or workplace that wishes to analyse risks and identify mitigation measures aimed at reducing the impact of the various health and safety related hazards. This information provides essential baseline which is needed to ensure that accidents on the job do not result in increased costs, cause delays and damage the reputation of the organization.
GIS is a computer system for capturing, storing, querying, analysing, and displaying geographic data. GIS is a special class of information system, which can be divided into four components involving a computer system, GIS software, human expert, and the data….all of which we have throughout the public service.
Health and Safety (H&S) management is especially important for many large scale development projects. The project site is not usually at a fixed location and teams perform jobs at various scattered points. Therefore, it is a challenging task for managers to follow production closely and to identify H&S risks. There is a need for identifying these risks automatically at the job sites for proactive H&S management and planning.
In many companies, H&S departments operate on a reactive business management model due to a number of factors including minimal staff, limited budgets and an inadequate corporate safety culture. Lack of resources and support lead to H&S departments that can only react to unmanaged hazards/risks rather than being proactive by assessing and mitigating risks before a problem or an accident occurs.
Recently, GIS technology is being effectively used for, feasibility studies, progress monitoring, asset management, and operation and maintenance management for all types of projects.
In the field of Disaster Management we use GIS for the preparation of hazard maps which we use in risk assessment applications such as those that assess earthquake and tsunami risks, hurricane and other natural hazard risks as well as environmental risk assessments such as oil spilling in the sea and fire risk assessment modelling.
Today, many more people interact with spatial data than ever before. With the introduction of Google Earth and other web map services the world has been given free access to high resolution satellite imagery from around the world and it is becoming easier for users to see, touch, feel and manipulate the GIS products. My 7 year old enjoys playing around on google maps, to find the location of her favourite spots, she even found her grandparents home recently and was able to capture the image and send it to them via electronic means, even telling them what items they had in their driveway!
These days, most of our portable devices are equipped with GPS receivers allowing us to determine our coordinates; this may not be a challenge for land based operators but for those who spend many hours in our waters this type of device is essential.
We have understood that GIS is cutting edge technology. The question is: How does this tool help to protect life and property in the BVI? I will give you some examples from the DDM perspective…
We use this information to guide us in all stages of the disaster management cycle.
Mitigation– using data to inform the design and location of developments
This information is used within the HVA process in order to ensure that hazard mitigation is considered in the development planning process. Since 2009, we have undertaken over 200 HVAs which have helped property developers to design safer, more resilient developments by providing them with information on the hazards that their properties are vulnerable/susceptible to.
Preparation– use hazard data to predict which areas will be impacted by an event and how significant that impact will be
Response– Use maps to help in planning response efforts following a disaster including identifying alternative routes, and priority areas. When the national addressing system for the BVI is complete first responders can be expected to become even more efficient. We are preparing for this day and we have recently completed training in land navigation and mapping with the newly established national search and rescue team comprised of members for the RVIPF and the VIFRS. This course was designed by members of the NGIS.
Recovery– in reconstruction efforts, we must use the GIS data that we have to ensure that we are rebuilding structures that are equally or more resilient than those that are being replaced. Site specific hazard information was also used to guide the design of all of the projects currently being undertaken under the CDB reconstruction and rehabilitation loan project.
We have used GIS tools to identify coastal areas of the BVI that need to be evacuated in the event of a tsunami. Based on the completion of these maps and meeting other requirements, the BVI became the 2ndEnglish speaking Caribbean country to be awarded the International TsunamiReady recognition.
Although we need to remain tsunami ready, we also need to consider how storm surge, coastal erosion and sea level rise will affect the safety of persons and properties on the coast.
Our definition of hazards should not be limited to landslides, earthquakes and floods since man-made disasters also exist. We are currently using GIS to map the territory’s vulnerability to technological hazards such as fires, explosions and oil spills.
In order to improve our ability to collect and disseminate information to the public we are also using GIS to determine the coverage of our existing Hazard monitoring and early warning networks. One example of this is an analysis that we have undertaken of the coverage of our outdoor siren alert system.
Such information can be used to identify the best locations for installing new sirens and for improving coverage of the national emergency warning and alert systems.
GIS has become a tool that is used daily in our work to help us to make effective and efficient decisions that will allow for prompt actions towards protecting the lives and the valuable assets of the people of the Virgin Islands. So the next time you see a map or a satellite image, of if you access information on a parcel of land, think about how it was developed, you may just be holding a product of GIS.
Thank you and enjoy the display!