FEMA puts disaster maps online

In an effort to provide the public with more information to prepare for natural disasters, the Federal Emergency Management Agency last month added an electronic mapping feature to one of its educational programs.

The public can access the electronic maps on the World Wide Web to view the history of tornadoes, hurricanes, hailstorms, earthquakes, windstorms and floods near their homes or for any area in the United States.

The online mapping project is part of Project Impact, FEMA's multipronged educational initiative to help citizens and communities "protect themselves from the devastating effects of natural disasters by taking actions that dramatically reduce disruption and loss," according to a FEMA statement.

FEMA created Project Impact with the idea that disaster-prevention plans develop at the local level. The electronic mapping project will enable local governments and the public to make decisions about whether to buy certain types of disaster insurance, how much local revenue to devote to disaster preparation and whether to develop land that might be highly susceptible to flooding.

"It's a project that's intended to tell you your risks," said Todd Rogers, who oversees federal business development for software company Environmental Systems Research Institute Inc., which has offered free assistance for the mapping project. "People really need to know where their risks are."

Mark Whitney, the spatial technology leader for Project Impact, said the site gives the public information that may have been difficult to find in the past. "Before this site, virtually no one in the country would have known where to go to look at a flood map. Now people have easy access to information like that," Whitney said.

ESRI developed and hosts Project Impact's Web site for hazard maps. At the site, www.esri.com/hazards, visitors can build basic maps that show the history of natural disasters. Visitors can create maps based on their ZIP codes, towns or congressional districts.

For smaller communities, the online mapping tool should be especially welcome. Rogers said some communities cannot afford sophisticated electronic mapping tools or geographic information system projects that would give them comprehensive pictures of where the potential for disaster is.

- L. Scott Tillett ([email protected])

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