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  • Feature
    Coordinator for the National Emergency Response Geographic Information System Team (NERGIST), Simone Lloyd. ​
    Photo: Yhomo Hutchinson

    The National Emergency Response Geographic Information System Team (NERGIST) is providing critical support in the country’s coronavirus (COVID-19) response.

    The team of geographic information systems (GIS)-certified professionals does spatial mapping of information about the virus based on statistics provided by the Ministry of Health and Wellness.

    These include data on new cases, types of cases, case distribution, deaths and recoveries, which the Ministry of Health and Wellness provides to the nation on a daily basis.

    NERGIST is based at the National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC) at the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM).

    NERGIST Coordinator, Simone Lloyd, tells JIS News that the team provides support to ODPEM in disaster management and response “which feeds into support to the National Disaster Risk Management Council, which the Prime Minister heads”.

    “We have responded, over the years, to numerous occurrences of tropical storms, hurricanes, floods and bush fires. This is the second disease-related outbreak that we have responded to, chikungunya (Chik-V) being the first,” she notes.

    The NERGIST team comprises persons from various government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) and includes the secretariat, the National Spatial Data Management Branch in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation; and volunteers from the National Housing Trust (NHT), National Works Agency (NWA), National Water Commission (NWC), the Agricultural Land Management Division in the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, National Land Agency (NLA), Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ), among others.

    NERGIST personnel are trained in Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) Data Collection, Spatial Analysis for Disasters and Initial Damage Assessment (IDA) to facilitate the development or enhancement of necessary spatial and fieldwork skills in response to disasters and emergencies.

    The first batch of National Emergency Response Geographic Information System Team (NERGIST) graduates, trained in the areas of Global Navigation Satellite System Data Collection, Spatial Analysis for Disasters and Initial Damage Assessment.

     

    Once activated, upon the request of the ODPEM, the NERGIST team is organised and deployed with ODPEM personnel to different parishes to conduct in-the-field GNSS or Mobile GIS mapping and initial damage/impact assessment determination.

    Ms. Lloyd tells JIS News that the team also conducts in-house mapping based on the calls that the ODPEM receives from affected communities.

    “We map the impact and extent and the level of damage. In addition, we conduct analysis and facilitate predictive modelling,” she says.
    “The collected data and generated products are utilised to provide support to ODPEM for the preparation of situation and other reports needed to support requests for overseas funding for response and restoration efforts,” she notes.

    In response to COVID-19, NERGIST was activated when the country was declared a national disaster area by the Prime Minister on March 13.

    The team creates both static and interactive maps from the data collected by the Ministry of Health and Wellness, supported by spatial data obtained from MDAs.

    They map the distribution, spread and status of the COVID-19 cases, the status of isolation centres, and also support quarantine monitoring. The steady sharing of information between NERGIST and the Jamaica Defence Force’s (JDF) GIS team, for example, plays a key part in the pandemic management.

    “The activities we pursue vary in relation to what is needed on the ground,” Ms. Lloyd tells JIS News.

    “We have created several ArcGIS operational dashboards that show the live mapping and breakdown of the statistics, such as confirmed cases, recoveries, deaths, breakdown by gender, the general mapping of impacted communities, quarantine areas and their boundaries, security checkpoints and so on,” she notes.

    Additional information includes the entry and exit points in quarantine areas, the number and distribution of shops, supermarkets, bars and gas stations as potential gathering areas as persons try to access supplies.

    Ms. Lloyd explains that the general dashboards show total cases by parish, but the more detailed version of the dashboards, which includes point distribution, date of confirmation, date of death and so on, are used internally in the NEOC.

    A daily situation report is generated from the NEOC that details the local situation in relation to both regional and global COVID-19 statistics. NERGIST-generated information contributes heavily to this report.

    The NERGIST team also facilitates the development of surveys using the ArcGIS Survey 123 application to support the Ministry’s response activities.

    These surveys are used to monitor COVID-19-related telephone calls received by the Ministry’s Call Centre, and aid public health workers, assist household monitoring, among other things, based on instructions from the NEOC or the Ministry.

    Ms. Lloyd tells JIS News that NERGIST’s work with the Ministry of Health also includes sorting out data and workflow challenges being experienced.

    She says that technical support is being provided to facilitate upgrading of the Ministry’s GIS infrastructure and capabilities with ArcGIS products being provided under the five-year Government of Jamaica (GOJ)/esri Enterprise License Agreement.

    “Human capacity development through GIS sensitisation and training sessions has also been facilitated for Ministry of Health personnel. We continue to provide necessary geospatial support to both the NEOC at ODPEM and the Ministry,” Ms. Lloyd notes.

    NERGIST has been in operation since 2004, providing geospatial mapping and analysis support, but was officially established by Cabinet decision in 2010.

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