The Second International Symposium on
Geoinformation for Disaster management (Gi4DM)

By Sisi Zlatanova and Shailesh Nayak

Geo-information technologies have proven to offer a variety of opportunities to aid management and recovery in the aftermath of man-made and natural disasters such as industrial accidents, road collisions, complex emergencies, earthquakes, fires, floods and similar catastrophes. Intelligent context-aware technologies can provide access to needed information, facilitate the interoperability of emergency services, and provide high-quality care to the public.

However, disaster management poses significant challenges for data collection, monitoring, processing, management, discovery, translation, integration, visualisation and communication of information. Challenges to geo-information technologies are rather extreme due to the heterogeneous information sources with numerous variations: scale/resolution, dimension (2D or 3D), type of representation (vector or raster), classification and attributes schemes, temporal aspects (timely delivery, history, predictions of the future), spatial reference system used, etc.

Recognising the importance of use of geo-information in disaster management, several universities (Delft University of Technology, Free University Amsterdam, The Netherlands; Ryerson University, University of Waterloo, York University; Canada), international organisations (ISPRS, UNOOSA, EU, ICA, FIG, OGC) and vendors (Bentley, Intergraph, Oracle, PCI) have taken the initiative to organise an annual symposium, which aims at uniting the efforts of researchers, developers, data providers and users from different countries and continents. The goal of the symposium is to facilitate use of geo-information in Disaster Management by:

  • Elaborating on tools, software, existing geo-information sources, organizational structures and methods for work in crisis situations

  • ·Analysing current use, discovery, integration and exchange of geo-information,

  • Making suggestions for future research directions and

  • Building capacity.

After the very successful First Symposium in Delft (March, 2005), Indian Society of Remote Sensing, ISPRS, ISRO, UNOOSA, FIG, EC, AGILE, ICA and TU Delft have organised the Second Gi4DM Symposium on 25-26th of September 2006, Goa, India. The second symposium concentrated on natural disasters as the general theme was 'Remote Sensing and GIS Techniques for Monitoring and Prediction of Disasters'. Some of the key topics that were discussed during the symposium were: state-of-the-art in remote sensing technology for risk reduction, monitoring and response to disasters; methods and software tools for near-real-time processing and information extraction for disaster monitoring and damages assessment; web-based information services based on satellite imagery and GIS; climate change and meteorological hazards, anthropogenic activities and environmental hazards; data access, data availability and sharing of remote sensing data; capacity building and awareness.

The two-day symposium has accommodated 60 participants from 12 countries. From the originally 96 submitted abstracts (from 28 countries), 46 full papers were received. The papers were presented in 6 oral sessions and one poster session in the first day.

The symposium was officially opened by Dr. Shailesh Nayak, chair of the Second Gi4DM, followed by briefing about the activities of ISPRS WG IV/8 given by Dr. Sisi Zlatanova, chair ISPRS WG IV/8. The first keynote speakers Dr. Irwin Itzkovitch, Assistant Deputy Minister, Earth Sciences Sector, Natural Resources, Canada was confident 'researchers have developed the science and technology to understand power of nature and effectively plan and mitigate' but he emphasised on working together to be able to minimise losses. Dr. Shailesh Nayak, Director INCOIS and President ISPRS Technical Comission IV had shared his thoughts on global climate changes, witnessed also in India (unexpected floods and cyclones). He has discussed the necessity to respond to these changes by appropriate remote sensing technology and near real-time data processing and management.

The papers have presented on-going research in prediction and monitoring of natural disasters. The research topics were concentrated on systems for early warning, use of satellite images for cyclone/flood monitoring, multi-sensor processing, geo-portals for data access, accessibility of information. David Stevens elaborated on the activities, such as the Charter 'Space and Major Disasters', UNOSAT, RESPOND, etc. supported by the United Nations in providing unified system of space data acquisition and delivery to those affected by disasters. Dr Shailesh Nayak presented the Indian developments toward an early warning tsunami system. The system, based on 12 stations, 25 tide gauges and satellite imagery is able to detect and warn population in danger in 30 min. The number of end-users was relatively low but the participants have commented on their experiences with end users. In this respect quite interesting were the papers on lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina (Henrike Brecht), the earthquake in Java, Indonesia (Norman Kerle) and study of user requirement in the Netherlands (Sisi Zlatanova). The data provides had a representative (Chris Parker), who gave an overview on the experiences of Ordnance Survey with respect to managing and providing data for disaster management. He discussed the three dimensions of 'good information', i.e. timely, relevant and accurate and outlined the steps Ordnance Survey is undertaking to achieve this goal.

The discussions in the tea breaks and after the presentations have revealed participants involvement and dedication to the disaster management challenges: 'we have to educate disaster managers', 'geo-scientists have to understand the users - we need user centered design', 'users feedback is critical … on accuracy, quality, etc.', 'web-based information is of critical importance', 'there problems with policy and organizational aspects', 'technologically everything is possible', 'near-real time satellite-based fire information system is urgently needed', 'the internet connection to Africa is very slow, most data transport is between NA and Europe', 'LIDAR-based DEM for costal vulnerability mapping', 'cyclones are still not accurately predicted', 'knowledge-based, contexts-aware', etc.etc.

The last afternoon was dedicated on a panel session. The four panellists were Dr. Panigrahi (India), Dr. David Stevens (UNOOSA), Dr. Norman Kerle (The Netherlands) and Dr. Alain Grignon had to lead the discussion provoked by four statements:

  • Geo-specialists can deliver timely geo-information in time of disaster

  • Quality of geo-information is sufficient for disaster management

  • There are mechanisms in place to make use of the necessary scientific and technical expertise after disaster

  • The geo-specialists are sufficiently involved in efforts to predict and mitigate disasters.

There are practically no doubts about current status of technology in providing spatial data to end users. However, it is recognised that establishment of Spatial Data Infrastructure at national and international level would greatly help in supplying these data when necessary. In this respect legal and organisation agreements could contribute greatly to the sharing and harmonisation of data.

The second statement provoked many different opinions ranging from ignoring quality to using only accurate, trusted data. Nevertheless, the common conclusion was that a balance should be found in searching and providing accurate data. Data with less quality but supplied in the first hour might be of higher importance in saving lives and reducing damages compared to trusted, high quality data but after two days. Related to this is the better understanding of users. Often users in critical situations are overloaded with many details.

International Charter was given as a good example of availability of expertise after a disaster, but still the coordination between the different initiatives at local and international level is considered insufficient. This observation was especially strong for developing countries, although some authorities in developed countries (e.g. USA in the case of Hurricane Katrina) also fail to react appropriately.

Geo-specialist are not directly involved in emergency response, e.g. training together with first responders, but there is high understating of closer work with users. Capacity building needs to be further strengthened and the governments must be the major driving factor in this process.

Last, the audience has given the opportunity to specify in two words the largest challenge to geo-specialist in managing disasters. Besides data sharing, accessibility of data, coordination mentioned as the most critical issues, researchers have recognized the importance of educating people to work with geo-information as well as convincing politicians to approve and support harmonization of data.

The Second Symposium clearly revealed regional specifics in disaster management. While the symposium in Europe addressed SDI and cooperation between different rescue units as major challenges, the symposium India discussed mostly availability and processing of data and put emphasis on early warning systems, realizing that the national SDI for disaster management either do not exist or are at a very stage.

The symposium was perfectly organized and it is our pleasure to express my sincere gratitude to the local organizers led by Dr. Rajawat.

We are looking forward with great interest to the Third Symposium. It is going to take place in Toronto, Canada, 23-25 May, 2007 ( At this symposium we are planning to concentrate much more on use of geo-information in risk prevention and mitigation, but methods and software tools for real-time data collection, processing and information extraction will be also of interest. The regular themes concerning methods and software tools for data management, data integration and data analyses with emphasis on multi-source data integration will be also present. The Symposium is organised together with the 100th National Conference of the Canadian Institute of Geomatics, celebrating its 125th anniversary.

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