Visualization in Crises

Hurricane Sandy has been detrimental to the northeast US, including NYC. Many information designers are based in the area, and Visually sends our best wishes to everyone impacted by the storm. Often times, the biggest problem for anyone making decisions in crisis situations is getting the right information. The internet, crowdsourcing data collection, and automated data collection sources have all made collecting the information much easier, but now the problem often centers around getting that data into a usable format that shows the important patterns. Visualization is the obvious solution to this, and hurricane Sandy has shown how useful visualization can be in times of crisis. The most critical decisions are made before the crisis really begins. For this, there are several hurricane trackers that did a good job of showing where the storm was projected to go, and the expected intensity when it got there. One of the main causes of damage in a hurricane is the flooding from the storm surge. WNYC put together a map that showed the expected flooding for the threatened areas.

Storm-Surge Flood Zones

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  Visualizations that explicitly show this can be very valuable for deciding whether or not to evacuate an area. Once that decision has been made, it is important to show people what regions have been evacuated. This map, also from WNYC, shows the evacuated areas for NYC.

NYC Sandy Evacuation Zones

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  These maps were purposely built to show one type of data, but sometimes seeing multiple sources at once is the best for making decisions. Google has built an amazing system called CrisisMap. The map pulls all kinds of data sources together and displays them all on a map. This allows people to spot trends and patterns in the data, pinpoint places that need help first, and make decisions about the best plan.

Superstorm Sandy

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  Just pulling all of this data together is a big project. Google has done a huge amount of curation of the data, pulling from a wide range of sources, and hooking up multiple APIs in order to provide on comprehensive interface for analyzing and exploring the data. The recovery effort is also important after the destructive force has ended. Once the most dangerous problems have been taken care of, helping people get back to their usual lives as quickly as possible is important work. Power outages are one of the biggest priorities, and maps help the repairs move along quickly by showing what areas to target to help the most people the fastest. Google’s CrisisMap links out to several maps provided by power companies that indicate where outages are.   The subway system in NYC has been flooded and is closed in many places. For people to plan their day, they need to know what transit options they have. Luckily, the MTA has been putting out maps showing subway closings, updating them as new lines and stations open up.   And for a more humorous approach, Max Read has created the Paint version of the same map.   Visually’s condolences go out to everyone who experienced loss due to Sandy, and we hope for a speedy recovery with the help of data visualizations.   Drew Skau is Visualization Architect at, and a PhD Computer Science Visualization student at UNCC with an undergraduate degree in Architecture. You can follow him on twitter @SeeingStructure

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