Manitoba's Red River Flood
BY PIERRE BILODEAU
© 2012 FrontLine Security (Vol 7, No 1)

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During a disaster, decisions need to be made quickly - using complete, accurate and up-to-date information. This was the challenge faced by  Manitoba Health's Office of Disaster Management (ODM)during the spring of 2009, when the province experienced its second worst flood in over 100 years.

To ensure the continuity of health and emergency services for residents - particularly patients in hospitals and long-term care homes - ODM worked with Esri Canada to develop a Web-based Common Operational Picture (COP) application that provided rich visualization and real-time situational awareness of events during the flood. The solution was implemented within five days and provided ODM with an effective system for managing ensuing emergencies.

The flood COP application enabled the agency to communicate its response plan to stakeholders, mitigate risk by planning alternate care locations and act quickly during the subsequent evacuations.

Esri's geographic information system (GIS) solution was used to develop the Web-based mapping application, which provides a single display of critical information shared by many levels of command. The COP integrates critical data feeds from various systems and displays the information on a dynamic Web map, producing actionable intelligence.

"Our group had limited knowledge of GIS and there was no time to secure additional resources," recalls Gerry Delorme, director for the Office of Disaster Management. "However, the COP was so intuitive and easy to use that it allowed us to align all of our goals into a single platform and be fully operational quicker than I ever imagined possible."

During the flood, the application automatically pulled information from over 100 data sources, including satellite imagery, topographic basemaps, demographic data and dynamic feeds of weather, road conditions and most recent flood activity. The COP displayed numerous data layers representing hospitals, helicopter landing zones, road closures and others, thereby helping users to quickly identify problem areas for more effective analysis, planning and response.

In addition to increasing efficiency by automating information gathering, mapping and dissemination, Delorme notes that the single most significant benefit of the solution is its ability to accelerate decision-making: "We would have been able to make the same decisions without the system, but the one enemy you have in emergency management is time. It's the one luxury you never have. The application allowed us to reduce the time it took to make decisions - from two hours to less than 10 minutes."

The COP has enhanced the clarity of communication and collaboration among emergency management agencies in Manitoba and enabled more informed, confident decision-making. During the flood operations, it was used to make 20-30 critical decisions daily, optimizing risk mitigation and resource allocation. It was also used during Ministerial Briefs to explain and justify emergency planning scenarios to the Deputy Minister. The ability to communicate effectively meant that operational response times were greatly reduced and ODM could focus on taking action to ensure the safety of Manitobans.

To further enhance the application, ODM will connect a public alert communication system and use the COP to monitor ambulances and hospital bed counts across Manitoba. The application has revolutionized emergency management in the province and enabled them to take a more proactive approach to emergency management.

"Using GIS has changed the way we do things. We save lives by making sound, timely decisions, and anything that facilitates that is invaluable," says Delorme.

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Pierre Bilodeau is the Defence & Public Safety Industry Manager for Esri Canada, which provides enterprise geographic information system (GIS) solutions. Pierre retired from the Canadian Forces in 2008 after 32 years of service as a Military Engineer Officer, including 18 years with the Defence geospatial community. He can be reached at pbilodeau@esri.ca.
© FrontLine Security 2012

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