GIS technology provides the bridge between current situational awareness and mapping

GIS technology provides the bridge between current situational awareness and mapping

  • Image of Goodwin Fire progression map
Goodwin Fire progression map (near Prescott)

A wildfire burns through the trees and underbrush on a hot, humid day over the summer. Local and state agencies work together fighting the blaze. While firefighters battle the flames on the ground, state agencies work behind the scenes to support the first responders.

The Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs (DEMA) supports local agencies in a variety of ways, from finding resources to deploy (personnel, trucks, equipment), to creating maps to study a fire and its path.

DEMA’s Geographic Information System (GIS) Analyst can use mapping software and data to capture and analyze information about a particular area. An emergency response and recovery tool, GIS can provide easy to share, understandable information such as a current map of an area where a fire (or a flood) has passed. It allows responders to analyze and interpret current data in order to better create an effective response.

Eric Shreve, DEMA’s GIS Analyst, uses two web mapping applications (GIS and ArcGIS, a platform to visualize GIS data on the web) which update constantly with information that pertains to events, whether it is fire, a monsoon storm, or other hazard.

During wildfire season, Shreve “saw a deficiency in the amount of information that was readily available for initial attacks (first resources on scene of a wildfire that look to suppress a fire under the first 24 hours) such as geographic location, county, and size up acreage. A majority of Emergency Management personal were having to rely on multiple sources such as Inciweb & the Southwest Coordinating Center.”

In order to resolve this, Shreve created a web map application (app) that would act as a situational viewer to show current fires across the state and other data sources that would help aid in the efforts.

“I additionally took data sources that show large fire perimeters across the state, heat detection imagery (Modis & VIIRS), and past fire perimeters that show where predictive measures can be taken to for strategy purposes with fire personnel,” Shreve explained.

Shreve created the app to allow other users to update information on the map as they received it. During activation, he left it running at all times during the day for situational briefings and updates.

Tim Barndt, DEMA’s Communications Technology and Assurance Director emphasizes the importance of technology during incidents and how it works together.

“With satellites that can update the heat signature of a wildfire by the minute and the size and direction of a monsoon storm in much the same way, first responders and emergency managers can make decisions in a far quicker time frame than having to wait for simple weather forecasts at specific times of the day,” said Barndt. “The GIS Apps get projected in the SEOC, and are accessible through WebEOC for our off-site partners. They help t track wildfires close to real time with satellite information that is constantly updated, as opposed to the old static maps that were projected on the walls of the SEOC and update every couple of hours.”


GIS can be used for more than maps of disaster areas. Jeff Marshall, DEMA’s Response Coordinator, uses an ArcGIS Journal Map during his weekly brief to staff. The Journal Map provides visual interest along with a map of where incidents are occurring.


“I can download maps from ArcGIS that may already have been created just by doing a search, allowing me to easily build the brief by inputting maps, videos and other data,” said Marshall. “It automatically updates data like weather forecasts from National Weather Service.  I feel the audience is more engaged with the map data and videos.”


Shreve’s future plans include to “start incorporating Search and Rescue into the GIS program, as well as Recovery for damage assessment,” he said. “Also utilizing WebEOC as another platform for sharing geospatial content is the direction that we are heading.”


Shreve will continue to work on ways to incorporate this important technology into DEMA during incidents and regular days. “GIS provides situational awareness. Having the capability to render GIS data on a web map versus the traditional paper map gives us the capability to visualize data real time as incidents change dynamically.”