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The Camp Fire burned 153,336 acres in Butte County, California, in November 2018. The fire destroyed almost 14,000 residences, over 500 commercial buildings, and over 400 other structures in and around the city of Paradise.
In the days and weeks following the start of the fire, Butte County and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection conducted independent damage assessment surveys of structures within the affected area. Because these teams collected different data using different equipment and—in some cases—evolving methodologies, there was some cleanup required to merge these data sources into a single structural damage assessment dataset. This authoritative dataset was necessary to provide the information required to file for FEMA reimbursement to help the community recover and rebuild. To accomplish this data cleanup and consolidation, the Butte County GIS Department partnered with Esri to build a web application to provide access to data, imagery, and tools for comparing and combining survey attributes.
Unfortunately, Butte County GIS staff were overwhelmed with other crucial tasks in the aftermath of the fire and did not have the resources to inspect and merge over 30,000 survey points. To complete that work, Butte County GIS Manager, Jim Aranguren, submitted a request to GISCorps, and the GISCorps Core Committee quickly determined that the project was a good fit for the services GISCorps volunteers can provide.
Working closely with Jim and Esri’s Chris (Fern) Ferner, GISCorps project managers created detailed workflow instructions and an ArcGIS Operations Dashboard to monitor progress. They also sent out a recruitment to GISCorps volunteers seeking people with previous ArcGIS Online and disaster response experience. The following volunteers were selected: Erin Arkison, Ranjhani Balasubramaniam, Shilpa Bhadsavle, Deanna Burke, Tristan Damron, Lennin Escobar, Wes Graham, Konrad Hughes, Erin Jean, Razy Kased, Mariah Lomeli, Afsi Moaveni, Drew Ortego, and Nathan Roueche.
Working remotely, the volunteers collaborated in a Slack workspace and used the ArcGIS Online web application to comb through the survey points, using addresses, parcel numbers, photographs, and satellite and Google Street View imagery to match and consolidate the points to the extent possible. Communication between GISCorps, Esri, and Butte County was essential and ongoing as issues arose, workflow innovations emerged, and data sources were added and updated.
Collectively, GISCorps volunteers and project managers contributed 350 hours of work over the course of two and a half weeks. While every volunteer’s contribution was valued and essential, Konrad Hughes, Erin Arkison, Tristan Damron, and Erin Jean deserve recognition for their especially tireless efforts. Upon conclusion of the project, Tristan shared his perspective: “This experience was really humbling for me. Knowing that the data that I and the other volunteers analyzed is going to help the people of Paradise is a really nice thought. I’m really proud of the work that we did this last week.”
Butte County’s Jim Aranguren had this to say about his experience collaborating with GISCorps:
The Camp Fire was the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history to date. The fire started on November 8, 2018, in Butte County. After exhibiting extreme fire behavior, an urban firestorm formed in the densely populated foothill town of Paradise, causing 86 civilian fatalities.
Quick and complete building assessments are critical to allow residents and businesses affected by the fire to determine their plans moving forward, whether it means re-entry, rebuilding, or relocating. Because of the rapid development of these emergencies, technical challenges, and multitudes of professional and volunteer organizations, many data points collected by field workers using mobile devices had inaccurate data entered or incomplete documentation. The points needed quality control performed on them post collection.
The GISCorps, when called upon, stepped up quickly and proficiently to assess the inaccuracy of these points through many varied methods, then updated the final datasets with correct locations and information. Volunteers worked tirelessly to provide quality control on these data points representing over 19,000 structures assessed as destroyed, damaged, or unaffected. Without assistance from the GISCorps, these collected assessments would not have been checked without a cost to the County in time and resources.
Thank you GISCorps for your devotion to helping organizations like ours in these frantic and devastating circumstances in using GIS to help people get the information they need quickly and reliably. We are indebted to you for your services.
GIS Manager, Butte County, CA