Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Mapping of a Disaster

David Hall is a 12-year veteran volunteer with the American Red Cross, and through his particular knowledge of maps and expertise in computer programming, he has worked himself into his self- described dream job - mapping disaster sites as a member of the Red Cross’s Disaster Services Geospatial Technology Unit.

David is affiliated with the Kentucky Region Bluegrass Area Chapter and serves on the Daniel Boone Community Red Cross Board. He has been a “map geek” from a young age, and at his Madison County, Kentucky high school, began taking computer programming classes. He continued to explore mapmaking and computer science at Eastern Kentucky University, and fortuitously some of his classes familiarized him with the software that the Red Cross uses for their mapping. It’s called ArcGIS.

David’s first disaster deployment with the Red Cross was to Hurricane Matthew, which occurred in Fall 2016 and left a wake of destruction from the Caribbean through the Southeast US coastal states. As an example, FEMA is usually first on the scene. They gather a lot of the initial data about where and to what extent the damage is concentrated. They do this partially by heat sensor mapping, to show the epicenters of the damaged areas (in Matthew’s case, multiple epicenters).

When the Red Cross hits the ground, thousands of volunteers working from this initial FEMA data literally go address-to-address to assess the damaged areas. The Red Crossers are evaluating in terms of help needed and/or level of destruction. (In North Carolina alone, 2,174 volunteers were out assessing after Hurricane Matthew!) This information is then fed into a computer to create an Excel spreadsheet. David and team then take the street addresses and geocode them to get the actual coordinates, longitude and latitude, for each address. From this he creates a cleaner spreadsheet with the geocodes, along with more specifics such as Red Cross contacts and phone numbers, specific needs, etc.

With addresses geocoded, the software is able to create a damage assessment map - everything feeds off this map, and from here David begins layering on information; shelter locations, supply inventory locations, specific city transportation maps and much more, can be overlaid onto the original damage assessment map to provide more specifics to assist relief workers in helping victims in a more timely and effectual manner. David confides, before ArcGIS, a lot was left up to guesswork.

David considers mapmaking as much art as science, which speaks to his love for the endeavor. The Red Cross has been utilizing the software since before Hurricane Katrina, but David feels there is plenty of room for improvement, and he is excited about helping to hone ArcGIS’s capabilities to anticipate a disaster’s damage and cut response time down even further.

If you would like to find out more about joining the Red Cross as a volunteer, please visit

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your voluntary service David. WE're glad to have you aboard!