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The following post was authored by Volunteer Adam Hufnagel with contributions from Humanity Road’s Cat Graham and photos provided for use by USCG Petty Officer 3rd Class Shannon Kearney.

When a powerful storm hits, it takes the urgent and thoughtful collaboration of many individuals and organizations to mount an efficient and effective response. In mid-September 2018, with Hurricane Florence bearing down on the shores of North Carolina, Humanity Road invited GISCorps to join a collaborative response effort to support the United States Coast Guard (USCG) with a search and rescue heat map.

Although evacuation orders had been issued prior to Hurricane Florence’s September 14th landfall, many residents stayed behind and found themselves in this destructive weather system’s path. The slow-moving, sustained, sizable path moving against the prevailing flow of Appalachian weather was expected to result in a life-threatening storm surge and catastrophic freshwater flooding. Concerned for the wellbeing of remaining residents, organizations gathered and collaborated to help.

Coast Guard searches for survivors after Hurricane Florence, NC
Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Joshua Mayfield (left) and Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Jonathan Miller (right) survey the flooding left by Hurricane Florence in Jacksonville, NC, Sept. 16, 2018. Coast Guard aircrews have been working around the clock to help survivors in the affected areas. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Shannon Kearney)

For the past year, Humanity Road had been working with the USCG to support situational awareness with a rescue incident heat map.  The map was designed and developed by part-time volunteers Evan Twarog and Reid Wiegleb, both with the USCG. Given the size and duration of the event, the Humanity Road response team needed expanded support, so they reached out to GISCorps, who offered the assistance of two volunteers, Adam Hufnagel and Michael Robinson.

“We have worked with GISCorps in previous large-scale events, and we know we can count on them when we need them,” shares Cat Graham, Humanity Road Chief Operations Officer.  “Their team of GIS and mapping experts support our data collection services perfectly. Adam and Michael provided critical support for the heat map of point of rescue locations throughout impacted areas.”

From September 14th to September 18th, Humanity Road volunteers mined social media for requests for rescue or assistance, deriving latitude and longitude coordinates from information included in posts and logging that information in a spreadsheet. Humanity Road provided this data feed to the USCG, federal Urban Search and Rescue teams, and public and private organizations supporting rescue missions. GISCorps volunteers Adam and Michael configured the mapping application to dynamically display rescue and assistance request data mined from social media along with rescue request data from the Cajun Navy database. As rescue and assistance requests were resolved, points dropped off the map. The data were displayed as a heat map, communicating the spatial distribution of open rescue and assistance requests and highlighting request “hotspots” in real time without compromising individuals’ privacy. Once the mapping application was up and running, Adam and Michael assisted with extracting information from social media, while continuing to monitor and maintain database and mapping functionality.

Humanity Road Strategic HeatMap
Humanity Road Strategic Heat Map, displaying current requests for rescue and assistance from social media and the Cajun Navy database.

By the end of operations, volunteers had monitored social media posts for 45 counties and over 700 towns. The quick response and skilled volunteers from GISCorps helped Humanity Road to give the search and rescue teams an edge over the storm. As of September 19th, all requests for response had been answered.

Humanity Road’s Cat Graham offered a final note on Humanity Road’s collaboration with GISCorps: “Knowing that we can grow our team with the expertise we need on demand is very comforting. Thank you, GISCorps, for your amazing support, and thank you Adam and Michael for responding to the call!”

GISCorps is grateful for the opportunity!

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