Open source helps plan for natural disasters

Using open source for disaster response planning

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Peak hurricane season is always a reminder that natural disasters are never easy to handle. If there’s anything we can take away from them it’s that planning and preparedness can save the lives of those risk. The World Bank and OpenGeo find themselves at the unique cross section of disaster management and enabling technology. OpenGeo's software is built to share information on on the web, which is a critical component of any disaster management plan. Various implementations of our software have been used to facilitate strategic disaster management planning.

In 2010 OpenGeo began work with World Bank to help solve problems around distributing geospatial data  for disaster management. Officials in the field often face the dual challenges of being in hard to reach places with intermittent internet access and of having their data in numerous formats. The result of working together to define system requirements was building out many of the features in GeoNode.

One result of that collaboration is, a specific implementation of GeoNode, created and operated by the World Bank and the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap team. is designed to facilitate access to important disaster planning data to emergency response teams and other key players. This data is critical for practitioners to understand the potential impacts of potential and impending disasters, such as Tropical Storm Isaac, and conduct response operations if needed.

As Isaac approached Haiti on Thursday, August 24 OpenGeo received a support request from Robert Soden of the World Bank. Robert’s contacts in Haiti were concerned that Isaac, then a tropical storm, would intensify to a hurricane as it approached Haiti. They began preparing by pulling data from Unfortunately they hit a snag when attempting to download the largest GeoTiffs, all of the information was there but the system would hang when users tried to download data. To support our client, and more so because of the impending emergency, our support team got right to work with The World Bank to diagnose and solve the issue. Within two hours Rob Marianski from OpenGeo and Ariel Nunez from the World Bank were able to deliver the following fixes:

  1. Enable WMS-C integration was not set to automatic. GeoWebCache was working for all the layers but the setting was incorrect and it was not being hit.
  2. Increase GeoWebCache disk quota from 500mb to 20GB.
  3. Switch Tomcat’s's memory settings to 6gb. The machine had enough ram but the maximum amount was set to 2gb.

The team was also able to suggest the following for future use, but have not yet tested the suggestions:

  1. Use of GeoServer control flow module to try to limit the resources taken by each request.
  2. Present a download link to the original file instead of the WCS service, along with the file size so users know what to expect.

It’s a sad fact that disasters cause so much devastation but an emergency preparedness plan with reliable access to data can lessen the blow. Our coordinated effort with the The World Bank enabled representatives on the field from OCHA and Humanitarian OpenStreetMap to access for flood plane, natural hazard and other critical data. If you’re interested in finding out more about this project, and others like it OpenGeo will be attending the International Conference Crisis Mappers (ICCM) hosted by The World Bank, from October 11 to 14 in Washington DC.

*This post was co-authored by Galen Evans.

Originally posted on and reposted with permission.

About the author

David Dubovsky - David Dubovsky is the Marketing Manager at OpenGeo, a leading Open Source Geospatial company and the force behind the OpenGeo Suite. At OpenGeo he helps connect clients, partners, and developers with content that is timely, helpful and thought provoking. In 2012 David was the conference manager for the inaugural Free and Open Source for Geospatial North America Conference. FOSS4G North America brought together 400 developers and users of open source to Washington DC to build, deploy, and...