Virtual maps to help in disaster management

The set-up is straight out of a sci-fi movie. But its applications are for real disasters. Taking a cue from the tsunami that hit the Indian shores on December 26, 2004, the Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS) virtually mapped Nagapattinam district of Tamil Nadu to study levels of inundation in the area for future use in case of natural disasters.

The pilot project, which was initiated by the Government of India during 2007, involved creating 3D maps of coastal areas which provide basic details that can be used during emergency situations. Information on buildings, roads and population can be seen on the maps which are accessed by the Tsunami Warning Centre (TWC) on the INCOIS campus in Hyderabad.

“Since it was one of the worst-hit areas during the tsunami, we decided to map Nagapattinam. The mapping is done based on hi-resolution mathematical and topographic information. These facts and figures are combined and programmed to be displayed on 3D geographical information system (3D-GIS), meaning one can see the buildings as they are in real,” says TWC in-charge Srinivas Kumar.

Details of coastal areas between Nagapattinam and Cuddalore districts were collected to assemble a 3D map covering an area of 100 km along the coast. The mapping area included areas about three km from the coast. “We chose this stretch as it was most populated and damaged area during the tsunami. Studies were conducted to identify the elevation of ground level, population and based on those results, the maps were made,” points out Dr. Kumar.

In case of another natural disaster, the team manning the warning centre can ascertain the extent of inundation, building damage and in due course help chalk out an action plan by accessing information such as road networks, buildings and population.

“A lot of ‘priority’ areas which are prone to inundation have also been tagged on the maps which will be useful in disaster management. Based on these applications, mapping can be done for highly populated areas on the coast,” informs a scientist from the TWC.

With the pilot project complete, INCOIS is planning to start a full-fledged survey of the Indian coastline and begin working on 3D maps later this year.

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