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Achieving situational awareness through BC’s Emergency Management COP

GeoBC shares their experience developing and implementing a Common Operating Picture (COP) portal for emergency management stakeholders, and how it was leveraged for BC's COVID-19 response.

"In no other time in history have humans had the knowledge and technology to save lives as we do today," says Ben Arril, Business Innovation and Emergency Response Team Lead at GeoBC. This sentiment certainly rings true when we think about the COVID-19 crisis and how governments at all levels are working collaboratively across different geographies to manage the spread.

GeoBC is a branch of the BC Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development with a focus on providing base mapping data and GIS services to all provincial agencies. Their principal partnership is with Emergency Management British Columbia (EMBC) – the province's lead coordinating agency for all emergency response events. Through this partnership, GeoBC leverages GIS-based location intelligence to address emergency management stakeholders' situational awareness needs during a crisis.

We had the pleasure of presenting with Gurdeep Singh, Business Innovation and Emergency Response Portfolio Manager, and Ben Arril of GeoBC on the webinar, “Managing the Response to COVID-19 in British Columbia," where they shared how they're supporting the provincial emergency management with GIS.

Finding GIS solutions for emergency management needs

As the province's need for GIS support grew and evolved over time, the team at GeoBC took a modernized approach to addressing emergency management needs by developing and implementing a Common Operating Picture (COP) portal to achieve this goal. "At GeoBC, we're driven to find more innovative ways to work collaboratively with our stakeholders and partners and bring in multiple sources of validated information for full situational awareness for emergency management decision makers," says Ben. Gurdeep adds, “When it comes to emergency management we took an all society approach, as our stakeholders have the data, knowledge, and expertise to help shape the solutions.”

Since 2018, British Columbia's Emergency Management Common Operating Picture portal (BC EM COP) has served as the province's one-stop-shop for emergency GIS information and the primary mechanism to display real-time emergency response data for stakeholders at agencies like EMBC.

The COP portal also serves as a way to drive ongoing collaboration across provincial ministries by promoting the shared data, knowledge, expertise, standards and best practices amongst the various teams. “We're working with our provincial ministries, local governments, and First Nations across the province to collect the shared and unique requirements for our wide audience. We've taken a very agile approach to building the COP because we really value the feedback from our users to build a useful and exceptional tool," said Ben, “It's really just a powerhouse of data for users.”

GeoBC's COP portal is a powerful system built using several Esri products, including ArcGIS® Dashboards, Web AppBuilder, Experience Builder, StoryMaps, Survey123, Hub, and Business Analyst, to name a few. "We've added all of these components together as building blocks to make the COP utilizing the entire Esri ecosystem," says Ben. "And everything is completely out of the box. I'm not a developer – I'm a cartographer! But using this system of apps within apps has made it really easy for our team to create these tools."

EMBC's Common Operating Picture Portal

The COP has significantly improved situational awareness for emergency response across the province. The team saw immediate value as users could self-serve access the information housed in the GIS portal, removing the middleman, so informed decisions could be made quickly.

Leveraging the COP for COVID-19 response

Having the COP in place allowed GeoBC to hit the ground running once the COVID-19 pandemic hit BC in early 2020. “We reached out to our partners in the health sector to offer GIS assistance. Taking a proactive approach laid the foundation for collaboration across teams and developing the GIS products needed for our COVID-19 response,” says Gurdeep.

Gaining situational awareness of the COVID crisis was the top priority for all agencies across the province. In the early days of the pandemic, the GeoBC team built the first iteration of BC's COVID-19 dashboard, following the World Health Organization's lead. As the number of cases grew, so did the need to incorporate data from their own internal sources to the dashboard. GeoBC teamed up with the BC Ministry of Health and BC Centre for Disease Control, who provided access to their authoritative datasets. These included the daily COVID-19 situation reports and demographic breakdown by the regional health authorities. This work was a significant win for cross-agency collaboration.

BC's COVID-19 Dashboard

Over a short amount of time, the dashboard evolved into a robust tool that was refined by continuous input from health partners. "We were able to add more visual representations to the dashboard because we had access to better data than in previous versions," Ben shares. "We're constantly refining the visualizations and indicators; for instance, we can now see total cases broken down by laboratory diagnosed, as well as the newly added international comparison charts."

This dashboard was also incorporated into the BC EM COP, so emergency management stakeholders across the province could access and use the data for their agency's specific needs.

For the team at GeoBC, building the COP was essential for the province's forecasted wildfire and flooding events, but it certainly proved advantageous for the COVID-19 response. Going forward, GeoBC plans to continue building on its GIS capabilities and cross-agency partnerships. Gurdeep shares, “The pandemic highlighted the need for continued investment in the overarching GIS framework. This will help us to continue providing support for all phases of emergency management across British Columbia."

This post was translated to French and can be viewed here