Skip to main content

Towards Resiliency: Leveraging Esri in all phases of emergency management

A global movement is afoot. It is a movement towards adopting a resilient approach, beginning at the individual or municipal level with programs like the 100 Resilient Cities, to the international level with agencies such as the United Nations.

Olympia Koziatek is currently an analyst in our GIS Associate Program.  She is an experienced researcher with demonstrated history of working in higher education as a sessional instructor, covering topics on spatial statistics and communications for disasters.  She came to me last week with an idea for a blog post on how GIS can help communities attain higher resiliency. She deserves full credit for the following blog. I trust it will provide you with some great ideas on how you can improve your capacity for resiliency through modern tools and information products applied in all phases of emergency management.

As is the case with many definitions, resiliency takes on different meaning, depending on context and/or perspective. Resiliency is defined by 100 Resilient Cities as “the capacity of individuals, communities, institutions, businesses and systems within a city to survive, adapt and grow no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience”. However, organizations such as the United Nations, Public Safety Canada, City of Montreal, City of Vancouver and others incorporate variations and expand this definition.  I suspect we will continue to see iterations and derivatives as time goes on.

What do these definitions have in common? Well, if we throw the various versions into a word cloud to visualize the frequently-used words, the following emerge: capacity, adapt, society, stresses, shocks and vulnerability.


We know that communities are faced with daily chronic stresses and sudden acute shocks. In Canada, examples of daily stresses include affordable housing, transportation and violence, while acute shocks can take form of earthquakes, floods, fires, extreme weather and others. Communities need to plan for vulnerabilities and hazards to help better adapt to shocks and this can be supported by improving our capacities in emergency and disaster events.  Through mitigating and preparing, communities can better respond, recover and adapt to change, and therefore strive for higher resiliency. 



In a previous blog post, “Fire, flood or freak storm: Esri’s Disaster Response Program is there”, we talked about acute stresses in Canada and how geographical information sciences (GIS) can be applied to all four phases of emergency management, with additional support of Esri’s Disaster Response Program. Below is a walkthrough of how you can leverage the Esri platform for your organization or community, as you work towards resiliency within each phase of emergency management.

Let’s get to work.

Prevent and Mitigate

A key component of this phase is to understand the vulnerabilities associated with various hazards and risks in your community. Identifying these factors can help you assess your capabilities, prioritize resources, mitigate emergencies and plan for disaster events. The Esri platform can help you manage and analyze your data to help make informed decisions. ArcGIS Pro is designed to support your analysis such as creating flood zones for your community.

In the example below, flood zones are created from elevation data and spatially joined with building footprints to assess how many buildings reside in each zone. Additionally, 3D building models were generated in Esri’s CityEngine using Open Street Map data and imported into ArcGIS Pro where further analysis can be generated.



Preparedness starts at the individual level. Citizens must undertake the responsibility to educate themselves and their families on hazards that may impact them. However, knowledge of hazards and how to prepare for them is disseminated from a higher agency or organization.

Disasters are geographical, so how about communicating them to citizens that way?!  Maps created in ArcGIS Pro can be shared online and used in various apps for citizens to engage with and thereby gain a better understanding of their situational awareness and preparedness needs. Story maps are a fantastic way to visualize the spatial distribution of hazards, emergency shelters, evacuation routes and other emergency information by combining geospatial information products with other multimedia.

Below, a story map is created through ArcGIS Online and the flood zone map created in ArcGIS Pro was added in the app for citizens to explore. The app includes images, maps and text that informs citizens on the flood risk through an immersive narrative.


When a disaster hits, we need to be ready to respond with the appropriate tools and in a timely matter. It is crucial for emergency personnel to be able to assess the situation, plan for action and mobilize resources. A common activity that is performed in disasters is to assess damage. Through traditional means, rapid damage assessment (RDA) can be a lengthy process, taking up to 24 hours before the information collected can be leveraged to make decisions. However, RDA can be developed and used on mobile devices using Esri’s Collector application or App Studio, through which the information collected can be leveraged in near real-time.

Esri’s App Studio was used to create a RDA application that can be shared and downloaded on smart devices. The application allows the user to quickly spatially locate the building being evaluated, add damage assessment details with images and save or submit the details.



In almost every situation, the recovery phase is the longest. An earthquake, hurricane, flood or other event can come and go within days or even minutes, while its impact results in a long recovery period. Organizations will continue to monitor relief and rehabilitation efforts while continuing to mobilize operations and resources. Esri’s Operations Dashboard is designed to support recovery efforts by displaying and monitoring current operation status’ and customized information as necessary.

An operations dashboard was developed to display and interact with the data collected from the RDA application shown above. This allows emergency personnel to configure the dashboard to accommodate the information updates that are needed for their recovery efforts. The dashboard has near real-time updates as new RDA data is collected and submitted from the field. 

The Message.

Let’s improve our capacity to adapt to stresses and shocks through modern tools and information products applied in all phases of emergency management, in forms that help us understand and communicate at all levels -- from an individual through to the international level.

About the Author

David Hamilton is the Public Safety Industry Manager for Esri Canada. His efforts are focused on advising customers how to use GIS technology to improve all areas of public safety, specifically (NG)9-1-1, law enforcement, fire services, emergency medical services, emergency management, and search and rescue. Prior to joining Esri Canada in 2010, David managed the GIS for E-Comm 9-1-1 in Vancouver, and worked for the RCMP at the Integrated Security Unit for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games where he managed their Common Operating Picture. Being active has been a major part of David’s personal life; soccer, track & field, skiing, cycling, hiking and now kayaking are all among his favourite activities.

Profile Photo of David Hamilton