Unsung flood heroine maps out innovative crisis
Not all of the heroes who emerged from the 2011 Brisbane flood disaster in Australia used tugboats, helicopters or even shovels. Some, like location intelligence expert, Dominique Berger, were armed simply with a laptop and an internet connection.
Ms Berger was one of a brigade of volunteers from leading Australian Geographic Information System (GIS) and data mapping specialist Esri Australia, who worked with Brisbane City Council around the clock for five days during the crisis to develop and maintain an interactive, online flood mapping system.
Known as the Brisbane City Council (BCC) Flood Map, the system compiled flood data from across disaster-struck Brisbane - such as flood peaks, road closures and evacuation centres - onto a map to provide a comprehensive, real-time picture of the flood. FloodMap was a key information source for emergency response teams and the Brisbane City Council, guiding recovery operations and supporting critical decisions.
More than three million members of the public also accessed the map at the height of the crisis, to view the scope of damage and access important updates.
The importance of the BCC Flood Map was acknowledged when the project was selected from an international pool of 100,000 nominees to receive a 2011 Special Achievement in GIS Award, presented annually by Esri Inc. to recognise excellence in the application of their GIS technology.
Although the team's efforts were crucial to one of Australia's largest disaster response
operations, and lead to a landmark change in the way Australia responds to large-scale crises, Ms Berger said she and her colleagues didn't feel heroic.
"We all live in Brisbane and had family, friends and clients affected by the floods, so it
became very personal for us," Ms Berger said. "We all knew what the technology was capable of and how useful the Flood Map could be to the response efforts - we didn't think twice about helping out. Like everyone else, we wanted to do our part. We wanted to make a difference."
An important aspect of the BCC Flood Map was a function which allowed users to turn on and off information layers as needed, such as property damage and evacuation centre locations, on the one map. Throughout the floods, Esri Australia's team
BCC Flood Map with information fed through from local and state government officials and emergency crews on the ground.
Ms Berger, who was working from home at the time, said the data trickled in slowly at firstbut, as the flood-waters rose and more and more suburbs were inundated, the scale of the disaster began to reveal itself.
"The data came in faster and faster and the list of information feeds tripled in size in about an hour," she said. "I could see how many roads were being shut off and how fast the water was rising when I knew it was a terrible flood
"It really spurred me on to work harder and get new information on the map as quickly as possible – to pitch in and do what I could."
A second flood map developed using Esri technology, was also the first in Australia to
make extensive use of a social media viewer during a time of disaster crowd sourced tweets, Flickr photos and YouTube videos location on the map.
"This was a monumental moment in our history because it provided every Australian with a direct connection to how communities themselves were responding to the floods," Ms Berger said.
"It was the first time during a crisis situation in this country that such a massive collection of community-generated material and official information had been combined on the one interface. "It made me feel that what I was doing was part so proud to have been able to help."
Since the Brisbane Floods, Esri Australia's data mapping solutions have also been used to assist with emergency response during Tropical Cyclone Yasi in North Queensland. Ms Berger said the technology has also been extensively used following the Japan earthquakes and tsunami.