Defeating COVID-19 with GIS technology

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India, as a country, has united together in its fight to contain the spread of Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). As the situation around COVID-19 continues to evolve, multitude of initiatives have been undertaken to reign in the spread. Administrators, policy makers, public health and emergency response agencies are looking for tools to make informed decisions, deliver services or respondas quickly as they can. Around 45 smart city command and control centres have been turned into COVID-19 war rooms. For a coordinated response, authoritative information and analysis needs to be sharedamongst each other as well as with citizens.Location is the common thread that weaves together this understanding of the situation and empowers everyone involved to take informed decisions,act, and communicate.

Geographic Information System (GIS) technology provides the means to map and understand the spread of COVID-19 in space and time so that the decisions can be taken about strategies and measures to control the spread of the pandemic.In the past, GIS based maps and analysis have been effectively used by epidemiologists and various supporting agencies like WHO, UNICEF and CDC in understanding the outbreak and controlling the spread of SARS, Ebola and Zika through informed decision-making.

Epidemiologists are using GIS to map disease occurrence against multiple parameters including demographics, the environment, geographies and past occurrences to understand the origin of outbreaks, its spread pattern and its intensity to implement control, preventive, and surveillance measures.

COVID-19 has presented an unprecedented challenge for public health agencies, policy makers and administrators. In India, several central government organizations, many state governments, and large cities have set-up GIS based dashboards to monitor and assess the COVID-19 situation for taking better decisions.Esri India is supporting more than 25 such organizations in setting up GIS Hubs tomap the cases and clusters; location of patients under isolation or quarantine; vulnerable populations; healthcare infrastructure; their capacity to respond and helping authorities communicate through maps. This is helping them understand outbreak patterns in real-time to identify at-risk populations and plan targeted interventionsas per their community and population characteristics. Artificial Intelligence (AI) capabilities built into GIS are being used for predictive analytics and planning as per various possible scenarios that may evolve.

National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has created a GIS based public dashboard which provides the authoritative information about the disease spread across India. In Karnataka, Bruhat Bengaluru MahanagaraPalike (BBMP) has setup a GIS based Command and Control centre to plan, collaborate, coordinate and share various actions being undertaken at the state level.

Maps are effective way of communication in suchglobal crisis. Maps not only help communicate, but also evaluate and comprehend the scope and scale of the uncertainties, as they unfold. Adding to the benefits, GIS based maps and analysis enable accurate resource allocation, while keeping the public informed, along with countering misinformation.

GIS enables this multi-agency collaboration which builds an authoritative common operating picture for everyone to take decisions, act and respond. States and designated national and regional departments are thus expanding their vision for the use GIS beyond the existing horizons while breaking cross-department / cross-organization silos. At Esri India, we are supporting various government agencies like NDMA; departments in states like – UP, Jharkhand, Odisha, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Manipur; municipal corporations in cities like Mumbai and Pune,and NGOs. We are helping them leverage GIS technology to map the spread of COVID-19 and support informed decision-making. As part of our global Disaster Response Program, we are providing the ArcGIS Hub Coronavirus Response template at no cost through a complimentary six-month ArcGIS Online subscription with ArcGIS Hub. ArcGIS Hub is a framework to build a website to visualize and analyse the crisis in the context of an organization or community’s population and assets. The template includes examples, materials, and configurations to rapidly deploy ArcGIS Hub environment.

In addition, we have formed a country-wide task-force that is working with various government departments and agencies to support them in configuration of the ArcGIS Hub template and integrating their data sources such as MIS or APIs from NCDC, WHO, data about administrative boundaries, health facilities and their capacities and other data for their decision support.

The authorities across the world have resorted to technology to monitor, assess and devise measures to combat the novel coronavirus, and GIS is one such technology that has facilitated all stakeholders to make optimum utilization of limited resources, ensuring safety and well-being of citizens.

GIS technology is the core to this spatial decision making. GIS is used by governments worldwide for effective governance of the key initiatives. In India, it has been a core foundation of the major missions, e-Governance and digital transformation programs such as Digital India, Swachh Bharat Mission, Smart Cities, R-APDRP and SarvShikshaAbhiyaan. Many states even have state level GIS programs to track and manage initiatives such as progress of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), education, forest cover, soil health and water resources. This foundation of the geospatial infrastructure and knowledge is a key strategic advantage that needs to be leveraged.

Author: Agendra Kumar, President, Esri India