Three Examples of Geospatial Innovation in Emergencies

GIS Contributor


The term “first responder” conjures up vivid imagery: flashing lights, large trucks, and selfless heroes who run toward danger when most people are running away. But the way in which first responders approach their work is rapidly changing. Geospatial experts are leveraging data in innovative ways to help first responders improve decision making and safety outcomes, empowering them to save lives.

Here are three examples of how innovative geospatial analysis can help save lives in emergency situations.

1. Crowdsourced Data

Following an earthquake in April 2015, the mountainous terrain made it difficult for humanitarian teams to ascertain damage levels and prioritize resources appropriately. In response, personnel from multiple humanitarian mapping organizations plotted social media information on maps. Crowdsourcing images and data from hard to reach places helped first responders to determine where to send assistance and which areas needed immediate aid.

2. Indoor Geospatial Tools

One problem first responders experience is navigating difficult terrain with low visibility. For example, when firefighters enter a burning building, they run the risk of getting lost or injured. GPS’s radio wave-based systems are unreliable indoors, making it difficult for their teammates to find them. Researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory are developing technology that leverages electromagnetic fields, making this new tracking system is much more accurate in indoor situations. While this apparatus has applications for space exploration, it will also allow responders to keep an eye on each other in low visibility indoor areas.

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3. Expedition Hacks

In May 2016, Blue Compass, LLC hosted Expedition: Hackathon in Huntsville, AL. The event brought together the region’s developers, entrepreneurs and designers to spend two days developing geospatial tools for first responders. Teams spent time with local firefighters, police, and emergency medical technicians (EMTs) to gain insights and empathy into their needs and constraints. The winning entry was a mobile app that allowed first responders to map out injuries and plan triage approaches to save the most lives possible.

While the geospatial intelligence community is constantly innovating on behalf of first responders, there is still a lot left to improve. Expedition Hacks will return to Huntsville on February 25-26. This year’s hackathon will focus specifically on flood response. Join us to give these heroes the best tools possible to save lives.

Last year’s Expedition: Hackathon:

Author Bio

Bailey Morton is a Gender Integration & Mainstreaming Specialist at Blue Compass, LLC ( She also works on promoting innovation as a member of the #ExpeditionHacks team (


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Guest articles from GIS professionals. Authorship information is listed at the bottom of the articles.