GIS-based Software Applications for Environmental Risk Management
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Environmental risk assessment aims at identifying all possible types of environmental hazards to which a particular geographic region or specific communities are exposed, and assessing the risk in terms of historical as well as probable ecological, human, property and other losses associated with these hazards. Using the results of the risk assessment as an input, environmental risk management involves examining, implementing & evaluating the options available for effectively management of these risks.
Options available include prevention, reduction or mitigation of these risks, and planning for preparedness, response and recovery for the probable or real-time environmental disasters. The main objective of environmental risk management is to minimize the possible damage to various environmental components, and to ensure a long-term sustainability of the overall environment.
A reasonably accurate assessment of the magnitude and extent of the possible risks is an important step in the overall environmental risk management cycle. It includes: 1) quantification of the spatial as well as non-spatial characteristics of the environmental hazards affecting a particular region (for example- emission of a pollutant/contaminant, a natural hazard event, use of a hazardous technology, or any possible combination of these); and 2) estimating the associated probability of occurrence of such events, followed by characterization of expected adverse effects resulting from human and ecological exposures to these environmental hazards. This analysis helps in effective planning of the action items, in prioritizing and decision-making, and in enforcing suitable policy or regulatory mechanisms.
Environmental risk management, in its various forms, is practiced by a wide range of industry segments – including general and life insurance industry, real state and construction industry, government and development funding organizations, agriculture and the utilities sectors.
Role of GIS software applications for ERM
Environmental risk management needs a multi-disciplinary approach, with input and expertise required from many fields - civil and chemical engineering, physics, life sciences, ecology, geology, hydrology and statistics being some of them. A wide range of simple to complex, spatial as well as non-spatial, and quantitative as well as qualitative, input data sets are used in environmental risk assessment and analysis process. The environmental risk management process involves preparation and use of the processed information derived and presented in various ways – for example, comparative (or relative) risk analysis, cost-benefit analysis, scenario analysis,
probabilistic analysis, decision matrix, sensitivity analysis etc. Due the need for using and analyzing a huge volume of the spatial as well as non-spatial environmental hazards and exposure data in a fast and reasonably accurate way, GIS based software applications using a variety of modeling techniques serve as powerful tools for effective environmental risk assessment and management.
Such applications can be used for a diverse environmental risk assessment and analysis purposes. These applications can ranges from development of databases/inventory systems for simple to complex GIS layers overlays, to complex spatial decision-making systems for study of the impact of air, water and soil pollution, ecological imbalance, and natural disasters on the natural and man-made environment, including living beings, properties, infrastructure, vegetation and ecology. These systems could also be interlinked with other related systems, providing online and real-time input data feeds or communication systems, to allow continuous monitoring and tracking of environmental risks in an integrated way. Normally, it is good to start with a prototype application first, which could be expanded further based on the budgetary allocation, user needs and the user feedback obtained from the prototype’s implementation.
A general GIS-based software application framework used for environmental risk management
Figure 1 illustrates suggested web-based n-tier architecture for a components-based environmental risk management application. It is good to use a components-based architecture approach, because it allows a parallel development of the components. The components can then be reused for similar other applications as well. The main elements of the architecture are: a) user interface (or the browser); b) the web server, which interfaces between the browser and the application/data servers, and c) application servers (and the associated data servers, as needed), which handle the spatial and non-spatial data query transactions and analysis algorithms.