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Map Technology Important in Disaster Recovery

Posted by Barbara Fordyce on

It was over two weeks ago that Hurricane Maria devastated the island of Puerto Rico.  In a matter of hours, the island was flattened -  homes, roads, power grid, the communications network - completely destroyed.  Even the disaster managers who are in charge of responding to emergencies were forced to evacuate the buildings where they had sheltered during the storm and work from makeshift locations.

This gigantic felled tree blocked the road for a week.  Imagine having to clear this without power tools!


NASA & FEMA Working Together

Various US government branches have started working to restore the island's infrastructure and help the people living there, including NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration).

NASA is using mapping data from Earth-observing satellites to assist relief efforts in Puerto Rico. By comparing satellite images taken before the hurricane to current images, cartographers developed a “damage proxy map" map the before-and-after situation.

The map covers an area of 105 by 60 miles, with an inset (shown below) showing the extent of damage in and around the capital city of San Juan. Each pixel in this image measures about 98 feet across. The color variation from yellow to red indicates increasingly more significant ground surface change, and can be used as guidance to identify damaged areas.

This map was shared with FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), where it was combined with GIS building infrastructure data.  The resulting map was sent to the Urban Search and Rescue teams in the field in Puerto Rico to speed up rescue operations.

For more details, and a link to download the map, go the Jet Propulsion Lab at CalTech.


Individuals Can Help Too!

The people of Puerto Rico are going to need a lot of support for a long time to come.

If you're looking for a way to contribute, here's a few organizations that have mobilized to help provide relief for Puerto Rico.


United for Puerto Rico






International Medical Corp














Save the Children


You can more detailed information about providing assistance at PBS, including supply collections, corporate material donations, volunteer opportunities, and more.




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