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Group Remaps Some Tsunami Disaster Areas

January 5, 2006

SEATTLE — In the year since a tsunami devastated much of coastal Southeast Asia, a Pacific Northwest aid group has digitally remapped some villages that were reduced to rubble fields in the Indonesian province of Aceh.

Working with the University of Washington and the Pacific Disaster Center in Hawaii, Mercy Corps used Geographic Information Services (GIS) mapping technology to plot village survival rates, access to destroyed fish ponds and other effects of the disaster in hopes of delivering aid more efficiently.

“What GIS allows us to do is put a huge amount of information on a map, and in a fashion that can be absorbed at a glance,” said Paul Dudley Hart, a director at large for Portland, Ore.-based Mercy Corps. “That’s its power.”

Some of the GIS mapping is built on satellite images taken before and after the tsunami hit Aceh. The maps also plot data collected by Mercy Corps staffers as they traveled around the disaster zone with Global Positioning System tracking devices.

As the reconstruction effort gained momentum, GIS technology helped sorted out an enormous amount of information that might otherwise have overwhelmed aid workers.

The maps show the location of old roads and pinpoint property lines, which has helped settle disputes between landowners. They detail the size and boundaries of hundreds of fish ponds washed away by the floodwaters, helping determine how much dirt would have to be hauled away to rebuild the ponds.

Maps were made identifying banks that remained in business, helping aid workers figure out which survivors had access to financial services.

Developed about 15 years ago, GIS is widely used in urban planning, forestry management and other fields.

Mercy Corps launched its mapping effort last winter by obtaining hundreds of satellite photos of the Aceh area from the Pacific Disaster Center. Some had been taken before the tsunami hit. Most were shot in the weeks after the disaster altered the landscape.

The Pacific Disaster Center worked with the UW’s Mark Lindenberg Center for Humanitarian Action, International Development and Global Citizenship to process the raw images, turning them into a format that could be used in the field.

Taken from several hundred miles up, the high-resolution images covered 5-square-mile blocks, said Rich Nezelek, a GIS imagery analyst with the Pacific Disaster Center.

Mercy Corps recruited two GIS specialists to take the technology to Indonesia.

Daphne Karypis arrived in Aceh about four months after the tsunami and led a lot of the field work, helping organize a massive collection of data used to map 140 villages.

“The first step was to create property maps, and that’s a big deal,” said Karypis, who had worked with GIS at the Science Museum of Minnesota and at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. “In some places, the land totally disappeared, and in some places there is nobody alive to claim it.”

Dylan Myers, a UW graduate student, joined Karypis in May. He helped her organize and process information as it came from the field, and assisted Banda Aceh university students, who have carried on the mapping efforts since Myers’ return.

On the Net:

http://www.mercycorps.org

http://depts.washington.edu/mlcenter/news/

http://www.pdc.org/iweb/index.jsp

Information from: The Seattle Times, http://www.seattletimes.com




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