Street addresses not very useful after hurricane hit
By Marsha Walton
A satellite "brain bus" helped gather and distribute information.
(CNN) - Police, firefighters, and Coast Guard crews may be the first to come to mind when naming the lifesavers during disasters such as Hurricane Katrina.
It might be time to add geographers to that list.
In the sometimes desperate hours following Katrina's landfall, experts in geographic information services - GIS - helped search and rescue crews reach more than 75 stranded survivors in Mississippi.
One of their most valuable tools was a process called "geocoding, " the conversion of street addresses into global positioning system (GPS) coordinates.
With streets flooded, street signs missing, and rescue crews unfamiliar with the Gulf Coast area, street addresses were not very useful.
"They would get phone calls, or the Coast Guard would come in with addresses in their hands and say, 'I need a latitude and longitude for this address.' So the GIS professionals would do a geocoding, give it to the Coast Guard who got on helicopters and saved lives, " said Shoreh Elhami, director of GISCorps.
Elhami, co-founder of GISCorps, said that since 2004, the organization's volunteers have responded to disasters such as the Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, as well as efforts to provide humanitarian relief, sustainable development, economic development, health, and education in all parts of the world.
The Corps had 20 volunteers on the ground in Mississippi less than 48 hours after Katrina's landfall.
GISCorps is part of URISA, the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association. Elhami said more than 900 qualified volunteers have GIS experience, and range from from city and state government officials to academics to people in private industry.
Volunteer Beth McMillan, a field geologist and professor at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock, worked in Pearl River County, Mississippi, a couple of weeks after the storm.
"A couple of days after the hurricane hit, I felt so down, and wondered what I could do. I could give a little bit of money, but that doesn't seem very satisfying. To be able to have a skill that can be used is much more empowering, it doesn't make you feel so helpless, " said McMillan, back in Little Rock.
Although rescue efforts were over by the time she arrived, there were scores of other tasks she and her colleagues completed.
Web Site Shows Neighbor Campaign Donations
Just type your address and ZIP code into the "Neighbor Search" tool at fundrace.org, and you'll get a list of what your neighbors gave to any of the presidential candidates last year - and how much.
Your nearest neighbors are listed first.
The tool uses technology called geocoding, which matches street addresses with longitude and latitude data. The match works about 70 percent of the time; in cases of failure, results are given based on ZIP code. Visitors can also search by name.
Candidates, by law, are required to disclose contributions of $200 or more, and the Federal Election Commission makes databases available for download