Mitigating China's disaster
Li's expertise helps country assess earthquake damage
When an earthquake of magnitude 8.0 rocked western China in May 2008, geography department chair Bin Li immediately did two things.
First he contacted family and friends living in his homeland to make sure they were OK after the country's worst natural disaster in 30 years. Thankfully they were.
Then Li organized a trip to China to help with recovery efforts. He is a respected expert among geographic information system scientists, and he knew his expertise could help assess earthquake damage, relocate families and rebuild communities.
For the past decade, Li has collaborated with Chinese researchers, served on a professional GIS advisory committee and lectured as a guest professor at GIS centers in China.
"They know me, and when there is this kind of a task where GIS is going to be used, I wanted to be ready to go," says Li, who grew up in northeast China and earned his undergraduate degree at South China Normal University.
Even after he received the call to go, Li says he wasn't allowed to enter the affected region.
"It was total chaos," Li says.
Relief work requires new data, analysis
During his month in China, Li analyzed GIS data and helped develop recommendations for how the Chinese government should proceed. His primary focus was to estimate the amount of damage the earthquake caused. While there, Li also conducted GIS-related workshops based on a United States Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) program for estimating damage caused by natural disasters.
GIS technology was essential for relief efforts.
"After the earthquake, the old maps of the land weren't accurate anymore," Li says. "With GIS we could work with newly available data."
Li and other scientists used GIS to assess the stability of the ground, identify where people could build houses, locate sustainable clean water supplies, and determine where roads and communication towers could be constructed.
"They had many people working on this, and I was just one person who contributed," he says. "It was quite a rewarding experience for me to participate in such a major problem and see how I've helped make a difference."
Li plans to continue his involvement in the efforts to help rebuild and restore China as long as help, insight and perspective are needed.