Geographic information system (GIS) used to track cyclones, floods and other natural disasters is now being used by some states to understand the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic and the unprecedented challenges presented by it.
“We announced a global programme for the pandemic. The free software is available for six months to government agencies involved in the management of Covid-19 across the world,” Agendra Kumar, president of ESRI India, explained to indianexpress.com over a phone call. With its headquarters in California, ESRI helps companies and governments with geographic information system software and geodatabase management applications.
“With regard to Covid-19, we are recommending the use of GIS to model the spread and to understand the impact of the disease,” said Kumar. GIS is basically a “framework for gathering, managing and analysing georeference data” and georeference means anything that has a location, can be brought into a GIS system and used for various analytics.
To tackle the pandemic, the company has created a special ArcGIS Hub coronavirus response template that can be plugged into its existing products like the ArcGIS Online and ArcGIS Pro. Kumar said 25 departments in India, including the National Disaster Management Authority and several states, are now using their technology. Close to 3000 organisations across the world are using this template.
“The authorities are already collecting much of the data via mobile devices. There are apps to help them capture location on the map. We configure the software in such a way that automatically the data keeps getting updated. They do not have to manually enter the data each time,” he explained.
But in a pandemic, the need is to make sense of the data and that too quickly. The ESRI template lets authorities create dashboards and interpret the data overlaying them on maps. On top of this, analytics can be run showing what is contributing, for instance, to higher rates of fatality.
“With the help of these dashboards, the authorities can map the patients, their contacts, testing sites and health facilities. New clusters are also mapped so that they know which population is at risk. If people have to be quarantined, they know which are the nearest quarantine areas,” Kumar explained. For authorities, these easy-to-deploy dashboards give insights into the effectiveness of actions taken and whether the spread has been contained.
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ESRI, which has been present in the country since 1996, has worked with the NDMA and other state-level disaster management organisations earlier, but primarily using its GIS technology to track cyclones and floods. But the pandemic is a new and unique problem. According to Kumar, this also means new learnings, the biggest being that the health sector also needs to use the same kind of technology in order to mitigate the risks associated with a pandemic.
“The country’s preparedness for handling floods or cyclones is really good now. Over the years such systems have been set up which reduced risks from cyclones. We can now track cyclones, and know how to react. Shelters, the cyclones path, all of that is mapped very well and in a very short time,” he pointed out, adding that health will need a similar kind of approach to manage future crises. Kumar said all of the data is owned by the government, “whatever data is being put on the cloud, the clients can download it and save it.”
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