Preparing for Urban Pandemics Using GIS and Resilient IT Systems

Zachary Romano


Imagine a modern bubonic plague spread across the globe. For major cities, the implications of such an event would have catastrophic consequences. Infection rates would be rapid, leading to an incredible amount of deaths combined with economic and political instability. In such a situation, the government, employers, and major institutions would need to develop a strategy to prevent these potentially irreversible impacts.

Nearly 53% of the world’s population lives in urban areas. If a major pandemic occurred, these regions would have to devise an emergency plan to mitigate catastrophic population loss and high rate of infection. Moreover, such a systemic shock would cause significant business volatility. In this scenario, the practice of coordinated social distancing, supported by well-developed IT platforms, could not only slow the rate of infection, but also minimize the economic impact.

SunGard, a financial software firm, and New Jersey Institute of Technology’s “New Jersey Business Force” hosted a joint conference in 2007 focused on large-scale emergency preparedness and modeled the process of voluntary home isolation. Some models found that if 30% of the population voluntarily isolated themselves for 8-10 weeks, the total people infected would drop by almost half. If they increased this to 40% of the population, the number of infections would decrease by two thirds. The goal from a technology standpoint would be to support this isolated population segment, allowing them to go to work, attend classes, and maintain their normal lifestyle.

In order to track those in isolation, GIS systems could geographically pinpoint their location and map out where assistance and provisions need to be given. Eight to ten weeks in isolation also requires a secured portal for telecommuting, allowing those in isolation to continue daily routines, have regular communications, and carry out necessary tasks commonly done in person. Government agencies would need to partner with major companies and develop resilient systems to ensure the portals are secured.

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Voluntary isolation practice could also be effective in other disaster and terror-related scenarios. In light of the Paris attacks, Facebook developed a tracking system for those potentially affected to “check-in” that they were safe. Similarly, voluntary isolation could work in these scenarios, where law enforcement may need to more readily investigate the entirety of a city without people around. Additionally, with urban smog creating air quality issues in many global cities, particularly in China, the isolation method could allow employees to work from home and not have to commute, minimizing the amount of pollution produced per day.

More: Forget Quarantine, Think Social Distancing – Eric Kant,

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About the author
Zachary Romano
Zachary Romano is a recent graduate from Brandeis University and an aspiring researcher in urban economics and real estate with a focus on the use of quantitative methods and spatial analysis. He is a recent graduate from Brandeis University where he obtained a B.A. in Economics with a minor in Anthropology. At present, he has committed to a one-year term of service as an AmeriCorps VISTA with the Community Prosperity Initiative in Syracuse. Zach Romano devotes his time to cycling, volunteering with civic organizations, and spending time on the water throughout Central New York. Some of Zach's work: Housing and Transportation Demand Analysis: Boston Metropolitan Area Assessing Transportation Capacity and Property Values In and Around the Boston Metropolitan Area