In early July, parts of Western Japan were devastated by a series of disasters caused by torrential rain, including landslides and severe flooding. One area hit particularly hard was the town of Mabi in Okayama prefecture, where flood waters as deep as 5 meters inundated the main part of town, killing dozens and displacing thousands. In the immediate aftermath of the tragic flood, thousands of volunteers descended upon the town to help. Experts from universities and non-profit organizations joined and tried to find ways to promote efficiency and well-being of all those involved, including through the use of technology and GIS.
One need that was identified by volunteer coordinators was a digital way to track incoming requests for volunteer assistance, locate the homes from the applications, assign volunteers, and update the information when completed. The process in use at the time was entirely paper based, with volunteer coordinators accepting paper applications, searching and marking on a giant stitched-together map. The process was well organized but painstaking (Images 1 and 2).
Images 1 and 2: Examples of paper maps and methods being used to track assistance requests and assignments
Jeff Higgins, a GIS analyst and volunteer on the scene, contacted GISCorps for assistance in rapidly implementing a GIS web application and dashboard that could be used to meet their needs. GISCorps immediately recruited a capable volunteer, David Neiss of California, who delivered a functional application on the GISCorps’ AGO platform in less than 2 days.
In the end, unresolved bureaucratic and privacy issues meant that the application was never allowed to be used with real data. But the prototype continues to serve as a persuasive example of the value added by integrating GIS into disaster response in Japan.