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Aug 18 2017

ArcGIS Powers Mutual Aid Resource Planning to Improve Community Preparedness

By Bob Greenberg

Topics: Homeland SecurityPreparednessRecoveryResponseState and Local

By Chris McIntosh, Director, National Government Industries, Esri; and Bob Greenberg, CEO, G&H International Services, Inc.

Imagine a small town that has just suffered a significant natural disaster. It is almost always the case that the town will need to reach out to other jurisdictions to get help in the form of people and resources to respond effectively to the incident. To prepare for this common scenario, emergency managers need to develop a response strategy that identifies the resources they need and reveals where they will face shortfalls. Many emergency managers today use the Threat Hazard Identification Risk Assessment (THIRA) process to do just that, but when they do, the result is often a paper report in a binder or a static digital document that they have to dig out during an emergency.


Many of those same emergency managers also have access to an ArcGIS mapping platform that enables them to obtain rapid situational awareness of what is occurring during an incident—in near real time. Configured to provide essential elements of information (EEI), the system helps them understand things like the location of power outages, road status, and shelter status—all of which are very useful for identifying necessary resources and deploying them (see the National Information Sharing Consortium's [NISC] guidance on EEI's.


Situational awareness is very important in emergency management. It allows personnel to quickly visualize and understand the impact of an incident, identify trends, and predict outcomes. This leads to more accurate assessments and saves time—the most precious of all resources.


Connecting this insight to the actual deployment of resources is where which—the Threat Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (THIRA) process tends to stall. Even armed with the most modern situational awareness tools, logistics personnel often have to revert to the paper plan to identify and find the resources they need—a process that is very time-consuming—as they go back and forth between their map, their planning documents, and other systems. They lose precious minutes and hours in identifying the resources; finding the right contact; contacting the resource provider; determining availability; and, ultimately, deploying the resource.


What if they had all that information, available in real time, on one platform? It would allow them to instantaneously identify an incident, understand the situation, and find and deploy the appropriate resources. The key to doing that is the ability to operationalize a resource plan by integrating it with their situational awareness system. Esri's ArcGIS platform provides that ability.


The Mutual Aid Resource Planner (MARP) tool, developed by Esri partner G&H International Services on behalf of the First Responders Group (FRG) of the Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate, enables planners to develop more accurate plans by integrating additional geospatial hazard and risk information. They can also preidentify partners that will help provide aid and fill resource gaps. These capabilities, integrated with the ArcGIS platform—which provides emergency responders across jurisdictions with a visualization of the existing and emerging situation in real time—allow them to collaborate on identifying resources and assigning responsibilities.


Requirements for the MARP application were initially developed during the CAPSTONE-14 exercise conducted by the Central US Earthquake Consortium (CUSEC), where emergency planners and managers from eight states identified the need to extend the planning concept outlined by the THIRA process. What became clear during the exercise was the importance of both operationalizing the THIRA process and preidentifying the required resources in order to track their availability during an event.


With Esri's support, G&H provided technical assistance to the CUSEC states during the CAPSTONE-14 exercise and began working with Esri's ArcGIS platform to configure its templates and applications to provide those capabilities. MARP is empowered by the ArcGIS platform, which provides access to data from multiple sources across various disciplines and jurisdictions to help emergency managers make fast and well-informed decisions regarding resources.


MARP has been tested through several experiments by multiple levels of government agencies. This past January, the MARP capabilities were tested as part of the first experiment under the FRG's Flood Apex program in New Orleans. It was also used by Michigan and Ontario, Canada, to develop cross-border mutual aid plans during the CAUSE (Canada-U.S. Enhanced Resiliency Experiment) IV Experiment in April 2016.


MARP allows agencies to develop a more efficient plan for dealing with the aftermath of catastrophic events. It provides a simple yet innovative template that makes it easy to collaborate and share data among different jurisdictions. Building a better plan will help to strengthen a community's preparedness and resiliency. MARP is available to members of NISC, an Esri-supported organization dedicated to improving information sharing for better emergency preparedness. Membership is free. For MARP training, visit


For further information, visit

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