BILOXI, Miss. -- When the average person thinks of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and its role in the recovery of a community after a disaster, images of the initial response usually come to mind; a man in a FEMA shirt sitting at a table signing residents up for disaster assistance, an assembly line of workers unloading bottles of water from a truck and handing them to waiting disaster victims or, perhaps, a FEMA official joining local, state and national leaders on a tour of the disaster area.
The aforementioned imagery provides a relatively narrow perspective of FEMA's functions and responsibilities. Many of the agency's recovery operations and programs often go unnoticed by the public.
A great example of the lesser known roles of FEMA's assistance comes through the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) program. In simple terms, GIS uses cutting-edge technology to aid recovering communities by providing the means to gather, analyze and utilize a broad spectrum of data - from topography to political and governmental boundaries as well as population and demographics. The information provided by GIS serves to help communities in many different aspects of recovery and community planning in the wake of a disaster.
GIS works with local governmental and non-profit entities as well as the Governor's Office of Recovery and Renewal at the request of FEMA's Long Term Community Recovery (LTCR).
"GIS analysis capabilities are a part of the technical assistance package LTCR provides to local governments, the state and non-profit community rebuilding partners," said Bob Haywood, Section Chief for LTCR at FEMA's Mississippi Transitional Recovery Office (MS TRO).
Moss Point is one south Mississippi city taking full advantage of the GIS program as it recovers from Hurricane Katrina. "We decided to maximize the opportunities brought on by this devastating event," said Moss Point Mayor Xavier Bishop. "FEMA has been a partner with us in taking advantage of this opportunity."
Moss Point faced many challenges prior to Hurricane Katrina. The closing of local industries cut jobs resulting in population decline, a smaller work force and, ultimately, a decrease in tax revenue. But as the flood waters receded after the storm, the city's challenges grew even greater.
"Moss Point is an idyllic community that's a wonderful place to live, work and play," said Bishop. "FEMA's GIS program offers us another tool to fulfill our dream for a promising future."
Under the leadership of the mayor, Moss Point is facing its challenges by focusing on new and improved housing and promotion of the business district through downtown development and the creation of a riverfront district. The goal is to increase the city's tax base by attracting new industry, commercial development and, most importantly, a thriving, diverse population.
The Moss Point Housing Task Force is charged with identifying solutions to meet the housing needs of the city. The task force has formed a Data Collection & Assessment Committee to perform a study to determine housing needs. Dan Allen, GIS Unit Lead at the MS TRO, has been working with the committee.
"The committee's goal is to increase Moss Point's tax base through residential developments in run-down areas with derelict housing," said Allen. "We can help them by providing the technology to develop a strategy for improving Moss Point's housing which is one of the major challenges facing the city in the midst of its recovery process."
The transfer of technology may be the single-most important aspect of GIS involvement in the Moss Point recovery process. FEMA's GIS team in Mississippi has compiled a massive amount of geographic and statistical data as they perform their role in the mission of the MS TRO.
All of the technology and data compiled is eventually handed over to the communities to utilize and...