Esri mapping, Waze partner to aid emergency responders, residents navigate amid Hurricane Florence

By Mark Puleo, AccuWeather staff writer
September 14, 2018, 12:16:22 PM EDT

Anyone who has tried to travel using mobile map navigation knows how frustrating road closures are, especially during storms. While navigation apps and tools are almost always reliable with clear weather, any change to road conditions, closures or flooding can render those maps undependable. When natural disasters strike, this becomes particularly dangerous to emergency responders and residents trying to evacuate and get to safety.

With Hurricane Florence flooding streets, shutting down bridges and forcing mass road closures on the East Coast, the Crisis Team from Waze and the Esri Disaster Response Team are putting their mapping and navigation tools together to assist.

evacuation sign

Evacuation route sign in Florida. (Photo/Pgiam/E+/Getty Images)

Waze, which is the world’s largest community-based navigation app, and Esri, which is the global leader in geospatial intelligence software (GIS), formed a partnership in 2016 to “team share information to help citizens on the ground reach points of safety and emergency management officials get an operational overview of what’s going on out there,” according to Andrew Stauffer, head of civic engagement technology at Esri.

For years, emergency response centers have utilized Esri to visualize data and collaborate efforts. Waze has grown popular for its Map Editors, who are active app users who can provide updates and feedback in real time. While emergency responders are usually aware of the large closures, it’s the less populated or traveled areas that are sometimes struck hardest. This is where Waze comes in, Stauffer said.

Hurricane Florence police

Police officers have the road leading to Emerald Isle blocked off to traffic as Hurricane Florence starts to hit Emerald Isle N.C., Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Tom Copeland)

“Most of the time, emergency management officials will know about the large closures but they may not always have a hold on what’s happening in more rural areas,” he said. “The data from Waze helps fill that gap, so they can properly deploy resources to help people in need.”

“Real-time mapping can help emergency responders by offering a live view into areas they may not have access to.”

During Florence, live traffic alerts and data from the Esri Disaster Response Program have been updated every two minutes and will continue through recovery efforts afterwards. The mapping has also provided data from the NOAA about flooding, storm surge warnings and population numbers.

This week, Esri has helped the South Carolina Department of Transportation organize evacuations, manage road data and predict road closures. The combined technology with Waze has also helped residents find directions to the nearest shelters.

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“Esri provides a set of tools for data management and spatial analysis, that allows city officials to look into spatial relationships in things like flood zones and rising streams or understanding common pathway in road networks,” Stauffer said. “Just this week, we saw South Carolina DOT determine the correct lanes to open up to aid in evacuation, then share those maps and data with Waze so that they can be added to the application. Anyone using Waze has the most accurate pathway to safety and even to emergency shelters.”

Stauffer said this benefit of technologies can help responders in all types of disasters. As both Waze and Esri grow more popular, the data will only become more reliable and available with more users contributing information.

Along with the real-time updates from app users, the artificial intelligence and machine learning will also improve with more data and become an even bigger assistance in predicting transportation issues, redirecting safety vehicles and deploying emergency resources.

“The Esri Disaster Response Program has worked on just about every type of natural disaster around the globe,” Stauffer said. “Situational awareness is critical to saving lives and having the correct data pipelines in place to support emergency response is where we work with our sophisticated partners to create that live view of what’s happening out here: from street level images by GroundVu to working Teralytics to understand human movement patterns derived from cell phone locations, all the way into Waze with over 100 million users.”

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