Digital Map Products - Home Contact

Natural Disaster Plans: How Web-Based Maps Measure Impact

June 19, 2017
Data Visualization
By: Vivian Nguyen

Natural disaster plans are critical for state and local governments. Web-based maps can help greatly with visualization. See how as we take a look at the recent landslide in Northern California.

The Landslide Affecting Pacific Coast Highway

natural disaster plans

As many news outlets reported, such as the Los Angeles Times, a major landslide occurred affecting Pacific Coast Highway resulting in the obstruction of all traffic. Erosion, in the form landslides, is very common for the this California coastal region. Thankfully, there was no loss of life, which allows this incident to fall under the jurisdiction of the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans). It classifies as a project rather than an emergency incident. However, here are a few questions:

  • What will the Mud Creek landslide project look like since the debris may take several months to clear?
  • What effect does and will it have on the local population and day-to-day life?
  • Were any natural disaster plans in place for this type of emergency?

To help answer these questions, I decided to use some portions of the National Preparedness Goal core capabilities perspective due to the scale of this incident and based on the geographical landscape. This includes the Los Padres National Forest and mountain range to the East making this region difficult to access.

How Emergencies are Handled as Part of Natural Disaster Plans

NIMS is a guide to assist local, states, and federal governments, NGOs, and businesses assess, respond, and prevent disasters both natural and or human-caused. NIMS defines and coordinates the logistical aspect of the National Preparedness System (NPS) as defined by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Emergencies and large-scale unexpected occurrences like the Mud Creek landslide are often best analyzed holistically through the use of mapping software. In this case, LandVision™ is used to illustrate. The National Preparedness Goal (NPG) organizes the core capability into five mission areas: prevention, protection, mitigation, response, and recovery. More specifically, mapping and geo-visualization tools allow for operational coordination, supply chain integrity, community resilience, and long-term vulnerability reduction. Concerning natural disaster plans, what was the availability of emergency services as well as non-emergency health and social services to local populations?

The Role of a Web-Based Geo-Visualization Tool

Natural Disaster Drive Time Analysis

LandVision is a web-based geo-visualization tool containing property, demographic, and points of interests information. Using LandVision, I generated a 30-minute drive time polygon. This stretches about 16 miles to the North and 16 miles to the South of the Mud Creek landslide. The resulting polygon allowed me to extract total population figures for the area and calculate total property values for those properties within a 30-minute drive from the Mud Creek landslide. At 30 minute drive time (MDT) there are 231 properties. These have an approximate assessed value of $93,697,197 based on 2016 tax roll information. Of these, there are 27 properties classified as agricultural, commercial, and or industrial and make up for 12% of affected properties. The 30 MDT polygon overlaps three census block groups with an approximate population of 5,000 people.

The local businesses include hotels, motels, and ecotourism destinations, such as the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse. Moreover, there is only one school in the immediate vicinity. Pacific Valley School (K – 12) belonging to the Big Sur Unified School District. It was confirmed that several students have been cut off from their school by the landslide to the South. Based on this information, the local economy is largely dependent on tourists visiting both beaches and Los Padres National Forest. The landslide is literally and metaphorically interrupting travel and communication. It does this by adding several hours of travel time to both residents and businesses, including gas stations just beyond the 30-minute ring.

Other Questions and Summary

There are some important questions remaining but these are outside the scope of this inquiry. What is the risk of another major landslide given the history and topography of this region? What impact would a secondary major landslide have on the local population and economy? For free reference, training materials, and certification on NIMS, NPS, and general emergency response guidelines, please visit and


Author Bio

Customer success, map maker, GIS, location technology


Jose A. Robles is Senior Customer Success Analyst at Digital Map Products. First and foremost, he is a customer advocate keen on finding holistic and scalable solutions. A curious and habitual observer, his fields of study include cultural anthropology, geography, disease ecology, and the application of geospatial technologies, such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS). He is passionate about environmental health topics and intrigued by urban landscapes. Contact Jose at or via LinkedIn.

Download a Parcel Data Sample

Fill out the form below to download a sample of our parcel data!