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NJDEP Hurricane Sandy Information       OIT Hurricane Sandy GIS Resources

Hurricane Sandy: NJDEP GIS Response and Recovery

The NJ Department of Environmental Protection's GIS is playing a significant role in the response to Hurricane Sandy and the state's recovery. Professional expertise, experience and investments in spatial data positioned us to be highly effective. The GIS is managed out of the Office of Information Resources Management; but the magnitude of the storm required combining resources with the Office of Emergency Management, Bureau of Dam Safety, and the Divisions of Solid and Hazardous Waste, Water Quality and Water Supply. Read on to learn about the NJDEP experience, then feel free to share your Hurricane Sandy experiences with us.

Preparation

A year before the storm, coordination with the Office of Emergency Management and the Bureau of Dam Safety began. Contacts were established, emergency business process communicated, and expectations explained. GIS staff toured the Regional Operations Intelligence Center (ROIC) which serves as the central coordinating branch for statewide emergencies. At the ROIC security procedures were reviewed, access to computers and printers established and software and data loaded. Official letters were requested to ensure permission to be on the road if needed during a state of emergency.

Two days before the storm, preparation intensified. Another trip to the ROIC was taken to confirm access to hardware, software and data. Additional spatial and facility data was loaded on to portable hard drives for responders to take with them to the ROIC. This significantly increased the amount and variety of current data responders could have access to. A map of major streams with gauges was created, and additional remote access accounts were set up for essential GIS staff.

Response

When the storm was imminent, GIS Specialists were deployed to the ROIC along with members of the Office of Emergency Management, Dam Safety and senior management. FTP services were set up to access data on DEP servers.

There was no warm up. The first map requested was one of the most important. Outputs from the SLOSH model (predicts the rise in flood waters) were compared to elevation derived from LiDAR (at 1 meter resolution) to identify areas where the worst flooding was predicted. That map also included census populations by block to show the most densely populated areas that would be affected by the surge and that might need to be evacuated first. The map was compared with other sources to confirm that correct decisions were being made by senior staff on where to evacuate. When the storm actually hit maps continued to be made. Examples include…

  • Storm surge maps for Newark Bay based on the latest storm surge inundation data from www.weather.gov/gis, which was overlayed in ArcGIS
  • A map depicting a levee break in Moonachie Twp
  • A map of statewide reconnection priority sites for the Board of Public Utilities. These locations were determined by the DEP and BPU to be prioritized when electrical grids were re-energized due to their importance for wastewater management and overall human health. Some of these locations included various municipal utility authorities or MUA's and treatment plants throughout the State.
  • A map book for the Commissioner to use during a helicopter flight to assess affected areas from Sandy Hook south along the coastline, to the nuclear power plant in Salem.
  • New data generated from a query of the NJEMS database showing Solid Waste Facilities and Recycling centers that may be affected by Hurricane Sandy storm surge.

Recovery

Immediately after the storm, maps were made to support the recovery, and mapping continues intensively to this day. The first priorities were to create maps that would be used to get an operational picture of the status of drinking water and waste water treatment facilities; as well as the mapping of solid waste facilities with spatial analysis to identify potential temporary storage areas to facilitate debris removal.

Recovery will continue for many months as the state pushes ahead to make the shore communities viable for the summer tourist season. Current efforts have included the mapping of zones for managing wet debris removal including sunken boats and houses still in the back bay. The use of smart phones to simply data collection is being piloted; along with ArcGIS Online for Organizations to facilitate establishment of a new a business process, that incorporates live data that can be viewed and analyzed as it comes into the Department.

Future

We are pleased with the successful use of GIS for Hurricane Sandy response and recovery, but are excited about the potential to make it even better. In the future we'd like to increase efficiency by…

  • Providing more information through applications as well as printed maps. In an emergency senior staff need the data in whatever format is the most comfortable, and often that will be a printed map. But digital solutions have the potential to be more powerful and convenient, so we will work to increase our implementation of them.
  • Continue to implement standards for data creation. Help programs incorporate GPS into their business process to ensure that facility locations and sub-locations are taken during field visits, then stored in the enterprise data system where they can be accessed Department-wide.
  • Geocode incidents from the enterprise data system as they are reported. Standardize naming conventions for localities and municipalities so data does not need to be cross checked against multiple sources.
  • Purchase hardware to support mobile GIS for ready deployment of GIS personnel throughout the state.

If you have similar or different emergency GIS experiences we'd like to hear about them. Please share them with us through gisnet@dep.state.nj.us.

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Last Updated: November 25, 2013

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