Supporting Hurricane Response Preparedness


Record-breaking Hurricane Harvey has passed and recovery has begun. Now millions of people in the southeast are preparing as Hurricane Irma threatens Florida and the tenth named storm of the Atlantic Hurricane season, Jose, brews east of Caribbean Islands reeling from Irma’s destruction. Preparations for interagency coordination have been underway for years through lessons learned from previous storms, national exercises and smaller regional, state and community exercises.

In May, a Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Response (HA/DR) and Defense Support of Civil Authorities (DSCA) Table Top Exercise (TTX) was conducted during the 2017 SAME Joint Engineer Training Conference (JETC). Like Irma and Jose, the notional storm affected two Combatant Commands “ravaging” American Samoa and Western Samoa. The event was co-chaired by DOD senior engineers, supported by Combatant Command engineers and federal agencies including, but not limited to, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and United States Agency for International Development.

TTX participants spent time working through authorities, requirements, capabilities, constraints and gaps in response to a complex disaster and learning from each other’s experience and perspectives. Today some of these participants are supporting disaster response efforts and are better prepared because of the collaboration, sharing and learning achieved during the JETC TTX.




Shared Situational Awareness (SSA) is everyone’s responsibility; however, Geospatial Engineers play a unique role generating, integrating, visualizing and analyzing data. Demand for SSA during HA/DR and DSCA operations is nearly insatiable. This drives requirements for Geospatial Engineer products accounting for location, time, activities, relationships and assessments. Disaster response operating environments are distinctive, but all provide a volume of data from a wide variety of sources and mission partners.

Similar to the Cajun Navy responding to Harvey with a convoy of boats, the Crisis Mapping community has created a digital convoy in response. These digital volunteers integrate, analyze, and share data with responders and communities affected by the storm. Both groups, and others like them, are critical to supporting a whole community approach to crisis response where resources of every home, group, organization and government agency are strained.

Crowd sourcing damage assessments from imagery, analyzing social media feeds and using video from small-unmanned aerial systems supporting search and rescue efforts are some of the means by which volunteers around the country are giving to those in Harvey’s path. Additionally, invaluable government resources like the Homeland Security Enterprise GeoCONOP and United States Geological Survey Hazards Data Distribution System, provide extensive resources ranging from live weather and stream gauge feeds, Points of Distribution, shelters, power distribution maps, infrastructure and raster data (e.g. satellite imagery, LiDAR, Civil Air Patrol imagery). Combined these resources provide a strong and vibrant foundation supporting every facet of response and recovery operations aimed at saving life, limb and property.

Storm recovery efforts for Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Jose will continue for years to come, as will preparations for the next crisis. For Geospatial Engineers, digital volunteers and those they support, this includes documenting and learning from data generation, analysis and sharing techniques to include in advance of the storm. Since 9/11 preparation, mitigation, response and recovery have dramatically improved. Between the National Response Framework team and private initiatives, like the Cajun Navy, crisis mapping and Geospatial Engineer communities, we see the best of our nation—united in purpose.



In an effort to support future awareness and cooperation, SAME’s new Geospatial Working Group, aims to provide a forum for engineers to collaborate on topics affecting Geospatial Engineering’s cross-functional support of DOD missions to installation/facilities lifecycle management, HA/DR, DSCA and domestic operations.

For those interested, please join us as we continue to share lessons learned and resources strengthening the greater engineering community. Essayons! 

(Contributed by David A. Foster, Co-Chair, Geospatial Working Group, M.SAME)