GISCorps Rallies Hurricane Harvey Response

08-28-2017 04:31 PM
Esri Contributor
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The impacts of Hurricane Harvey are being felt far and wide. As the rain continues to fall, and flood waters rise, an army of citizen-rescuers are answering the call. They are bringing their boats to bear and are plunging into waist-deep waters to help those in their communities. While it’s not possible for all of us to lend a helping hand directly, those that know GIS can lend a hand from afar.


The need for expertise on the many “where” questions of a disaster continue to grow, answering such questions as

  • Where are the one-story homes that are about to be immersed?
  • Where are dry beds and shelters for those that are displaced?
  • What are the quickest and safest routes to evacuate the most people in the shortest amount of time?


As the government encourages citizens to help one another, the non-profit organization made up of mapping experts is answering the call. GISCorps, a program of the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association (URISA), has been providing a range of mapping and disaster response services for more than 14 years worldwide.


GISCorps volunteers conduct most of their work remotely and nearly half of their work responding to disasters. These volunteers harness the power of the cloud-based ArcGIS Online platform for such tasks as data collection, data cleansing, and creating story maps and map galleries to communicate needs and impacts.


“GISCorps volunteers have been involved in almost every disaster since 2003,” says Shoreh Elhami, the founder of URISA’s GISCorps. “We have worked on Hurricane Katrina, the Asian tsunami, the cyclone in Burma, the Ebola epidemic, and many more.”


Volunteers gain the satisfaction of helping those in need, and there are many ancillary benefits.


“Many of our volunteers have said they learn more quickly from GISCorps experiences than from their day jobs,” said Elhami. “They get exposed to different projects that require different skills and tools, and that provides a valuable learning experience.”


GISCorps uses ArcGIS Online to spread the work among volunteers and to create a communication platform to share updates on unfolding events.


“Thanks to the backing from the Esri Disaster Response Program, we have a backend that supports the work of our volunteers,” said Elhami. “We can ingest and process imagery, and to digitize points of interest in a way that’s much easier than in the past. I’m really excited about putting our 5,000 volunteers to work doing a lot more.”


Applying to become a GISCorps volunteer can be done only online.

MVP Notable Contributor


Thanks for sharing this. I attempted several times to find volunteer GIS work for Hurricane Harvey through google searches and never found anything. I am glad to know this exists.

However, I cannot find anything on the GIS Corps page about how to help with Hurricane Harvey. Even the search comes up blank:

Can you directly link to a site where people can get involved? Or show an indirect way of how to get there?

Esri Contributor

Hello Adrian

I believe the first step is to apply online<> with GISCorps. The Core Committee will then work with you on specific assignments. Thanks for helping out!

MVP Notable Contributor

I have applied, thanks. I suppose the next step is waiting...

MVP Regular Contributor

Adrian: You may find the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) activity interesting as well.

They currently have several open tasks related to Harvey and Texas that you can easily join, and in the process help improve the OpenStreetMap worldwide database:

OSM Tasking Manager - Harvey 

MVP Notable Contributor

Marco, this is awesome! Thanks for sharing this. Luckily I have been invited to help with a crowdsource map and to help with emergency road closures so I think I'm good for a little while!

About the Author
I am the Industry Specialist for Public Safety and Disaster Response Program. This includes Public Safety sub-markets of Law Enforcement, Homeland/National Security, Emergency Management, Emergency Communications, Humanitarian, Fraud Waste and Abuse, Corporate Security and Resilience, Fire/Rescue/EMS, and Wildland Fire. I also coordinate the Disaster Response Program and here at Esri. I manage the National Security Summit and National Security Showcase at the UC every year. I have been with Esri since 2000. Content I post may be from my team members and will be indicated in the by-line.