Predicting Natural Disasters and Humanitarian Crises through GIS

Rebecca Maxwell


On November 8, 2013, Typhoon Haiyan slammed into the Philippine islands leaving a toll of enormous destruction in its wake. The mega storm led to the deaths of other 6,000 people and the displacement of over three million people. The storm Haiyan is the deadliest storm to hit the Philippines on record, and it has produced an untold amount of human suffering. Even now, two months later, people in the Philippines are still trying to rebuild their lives as more humanitarian aid flows into the country. According to the BBC, the relief effort is just getting started, however, with estimates that the country will need help for several more years to come.

In response to Typhoon Haiyan and other humanitarian emergencies around the world, the U.S. military is doing its part to better predict these challenges through the use of digital mapping. A couple weeks after Haiyan caused so much devastation, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, also known as NGA, announced its plans to create a global geographic intelligence database for humanitarian crises. This database would combine both detailed maps of the world with information about demographics, weather patterns, and overall trends. The function of this new database is to enable better predictions and analysis of humanitarian crises because of natural disasters, political conflicts, and general instability in certain regions.

The NGA is a Pentagon agency that supplies geospatial intelligence to the U.S. military, policy makers, intelligence operators, and even first responders. Through this new GIS database project, called Project GeoAnalytics, the NGA wants to create a data-rich map that takes into account not only the physical characteristics of certain locations around the globe but also include supplementary information about its people and the political situation. The GIS data is one of several mapping projects being worked by the NGA. The agency is already in the process of creating a digital map of the entire globe that is constantly updated as well as producing a map of the ocean’s topography for better submarine navigation .

Not only could these maps lead to better prediction and analysis of humanitarian crises but they could have other uses. For example, military planners could better define future terrorist threats in certain regions. The database could also help planners identify those areas that are at risk for instability because of environmental factors, such as droughts and famine, or political and social changes. Consequently, Project GeoAnalytics could identify likely U.N. humanitarian missions because of these different problems and, moreover, assist the planning of these aid responses. One of the NGA’s objectives with the project is is offer both short-term and long-term forecasts for global.

In the end, this new mapping project from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency could get more charitable aid to those regions of the world that need it and do it quicker. The NGA has already been active in the humanitarian efforts in the Philippines in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan. Maps from the NGA have been used to show damage done to roads and ports in order to help aid groups find the best routes. The maps have also been used to find the locations of hospitals and other landmarks damaged by the storm. Doing so has provided relief groups with ideas on what structures and services need to repaired or replaced. With improved responses, people affected by these disasters could get the help they need to rebuild and move on with their lives.


Map Showing Preliminary Damage Assessment of Super Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda). Source: National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency 11/11/13.
Map Showing Preliminary Damage Assessment of Super Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda). Source: National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency 11/11/13.

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About the author
Rebecca Maxwell
Rebecca Maxwell is a freelance writer who loves to write about a variety of subjects. She holds a B.A. in History from Boise State University. Rebecca has also been a contributing writer on

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