Here is a way for Geographic Information professionals (of which I am one) to help out with the disaster in the south in the wake of hurricane Katrina. Now, before you wonder what the heck a small niche of computer professionals can do, GIS is used extensively in emergency situations, like forest fires and other natural disasters, to help aid workers analyze what happened and how to best reach people in need. They take advantage of satellite and air photography to make quick maps of the areas affected for use by emergency agencies and aid crews.
For example, GIS professionals could get satellite shots that provide the location of standing water, and use existing parcel data analyze who's houses and what buildings are under water and get a list of those people. Maps of standing water crossed with information on what was not covered as of last week, coupled with data on where the largest concentrations of people are will help emergency operations prioritize. The list of things to do with this technology in support of catastrophe is endless.
There is an organization called GISCorps, which is under the umbrella of the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association (URISA).
Here’s their tag:
GISCorps coordinates short term, volunteer GIS services to underprivileged communities worldwide. Our volunteers' services help improve the quality of life. They support humanitarian relief, environmental analysis, economic development, community planning and sustainable development, GIS implementation and management, local capacity enhancement, aboriginal issues, health and education.
In October 2003, URISA's Board of Directors unanimously endorsed the GISCorps as an initiative under URISA's auspices. GISCorps is run by a Core Committee of 6 individuals who meet monthly. As of July 12th 2005, GISCorps has over 270 experienced volunteers. They reside in 35 different countries over the five continents. The US volunteers come from 36 different states. They are looking to provide GIS services such as: performing needs assessment and strategic planning, conducting technical workshops, database modeling, disaster management, and remote sensing, etc.
The GISCorps has been working around the clock to evaluate and make available its volunteers to several agencies working on the Indian Ocean Tragedy. Click for details on our current efforts.
The volunteers usually work from their home or office. They perform analysis and produce maps for projects in areas of the world that would otherwise not have the funding to perform such analysis. Their first project was to plan for sustainable development in the Sacred Valley in Peru.
Other projects have included support for the Andaman islands of India, which were hit hard by the Tsunami, and projects in Afghanistan.
The Corps are drumming up support for 20 volunteers to work in the Mississippi Emergency Operations Center in Jackson, MS.