Disasters happen in specific locations and affect people, capital assets and economic activities in those locations. The understanding of the processes — interaction between hazards, exposure to those hazards as well as vulnerabilities — that create disaster risk also has geospatial dimensions. This has been at the heart of disaster risk management for the last four decades. Technological developments in the last couple of decades offer fresh opportunities for new imagination and even more powerful application of geospatial technologies for disaster risk management. However, in order to make the most of these opportunities, it is important that some principles of practice are kept in mind. Here, I propose the “Ten Commandments” for the same:
- Invest in data hygiene: There are no shortcuts. The hard, tedious work of collecting data, cleaning it and storing it in an interoperable format is the foundation of all analysis. This is most uninteresting, unattractive work, but is fundamental to the success of any geospatial endeavor.
- Form follows function: It is important to think about the needs of the ultimate users and the end product they require. The technology platform should serve that need and not the other way round. There are too many examples of a technological solution looking for a problem.
- A good theory is the most practical thing: It is very easy to get swayed by new technologies and tools, but it is important that all analysis is underpinned by a good theory of change. Analytical work without in-depth understanding of the “theory of change” of disaster risk management is not going to yield practical, real world results.
- Think laterally: Life is interconnected, and so are our problems. It is important to think laterally and look for explanations and solutions from other fields. It is also important to go beyond the edge of the familiar domain.
- Think fast, think slow: Apologies to Daniel Kahneman for using his famous book title. In disaster risk management, it is important to rememeber that the disaster that will happen is not the one you prepared for! While you may see similarities between the current and the most recent disaster, it is rarely the same. Sometime the underlying processes as well as impacts are quite different from what meets the eye. So, by all means, use the recent experience to try to solve the current disaster (think fast), but constantly question your assumptions (think slow). Discuss, deliberate, discover.
- You get what you pay for: The building blocks of geospatial infrastructure will require investment. If you skimp on it, you will pay for it in the form of sub-optimal results.
- Approach the latest fad with skepticism: Every few years, the technology world is taken by storm by some new fads. By all means, take advantage of these new possibilities, but new fads are rarely a replacement for time-tested methods. Don’t abandon such methods.
- No substitute to ground level understanding: Wonderful insights provided by geospatial technologies need to be informed by ground level understanding. Each place, each community at risk of a disaster is different. There are no shortcuts.
- Communicate the result in easy language: It is important that the end products of the analytical work are focused at communicating, and not impressing.
- Supplement, not supplant local capacity: And finally, the local capacity for application of geospatial technologies has to be a starting point. We need to build on this capacity.
If we follow the above principles, we can create an exciting future and make the world more resilient through optimal use of geospatial technologies.