Contemporary history has seen an ever increasing incidence in natural disasters worldwide. In just about every place on Earth, humans are impacted by natural disasters at some point in their lives. Over a recent 20 year period, more than 8,500 natural disasters occurred, affecting more than 2.6 billion people.
As an example, Peru faces a wide variety of weather and geophysical related natural disasters including flooding, landslides, and earthquakes. In fact, Peru has seen some of the worst natural catastrophes in the western hemisphere in recent history. When the Urubamba River flooded in January 2010, the river undermined 18 miles of the only railway line to Machu Picchu, stranding 3,900 tourists and placing 15,000 people in the tourism business out of work for several months.
Every government must plan and act when a natural disaster threatens. One key is the ability to predict, plan, and execute on a focused rescue and recovery plan. Elevation data plays a critical role in the prediction and planning process. Digital elevation models (DEMs) within a flood model can help determine where flood waters will flow so resources can be guided in the right direction. Elevation data within peril models will also help determine what areas will likely be affected by an earthquake or which are in the path of a hurricane so effective planning and resource allocation can occur.
More to the point, elevation data within flood models can also help emergency services personnel know which hospitals are in the path of flood waters and therefore need evacuation and which hospitals can take the overflow of patients. Elevation data within flood models can also predict which roads will be flooded so proper emergency planning measure can be executed. This knowledge and planning can save countless lives and make a dramatic difference in a speedy recovery from a natural disaster.