GIS specialist uses data to inform recovery and provide transparency
Tony Sirna, a community planner from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Middle East District, is on Maui supporting the Hawai‘i Wildfires Recovery mission as a Geographic Information System specialist. (USACE photo by Melanie Peterson) (Photo Credit: Melanie Peterson) VIEW ORIGINAL

As a former first responder, Tony Sirna felt compelled to help when he learned about the devastating wildfires that took place on Maui, Aug. 8, 2023. “When they asked if I could deploy, I knew it was something I was interested in,” Sirna said. “This has been a learning opportunity for me because of the importance of the mission and the work environment.”

Sirna, a community planner from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Middle East District, is on Maui supporting the Hawai‘i Wildfires Recovery mission as a Geographic Information System specialist.

As a community planner in his home district, Sirna creates maps and performs spatial analysis. In his role as a GIS specialist, Sirna teaches people supporting the recovery mission how to use the GIS system and updates the commander’s daily brief. He also communicates with people before they deploy to tell them how to prepare.

Once personnel are in the field, they can collect data and send it to a cloud platform so that the dashboards to provide a real time look at different elements of the mission.

“We are pulling together all the mission essential information into one platform to communicate with each other which allows us to coordinate activities effectively,” Sirna said. “It’s essentially data management so we can easily recall what we did for continuity and transparency to improve mission effectiveness. We are working to streamline the processes and added capabilities.”

Sirna says he didn’t realize how sophisticated the platform was and it has given him ideas to take back to his home district to better facilitate his job duties. “Now I understand how it all fits together and I can go home and replicate it,” he said.

“The one thing that has stuck with me, is that it really takes a multi-faceted approach to manage a disaster recovery mission. There are many roles that are needed in an emergency deployment like information technology, public affairs and critical incident stress management,” said Sirna.

Out of high school, Sirna obtained his paramedic certification from a local college and started work as a firefighter paramedic. After 10 years, he went back to college at James Madison University where he obtained his Bachelor of Science in geology. He then got a position at the U.S. Army Geospatial Center where he worked with GIS. He worked there for eight years before taking a position with the USACE Middle East District.

“I am the only GIS person they have, so I had the opportunity to start a GIS program. If someone needs something mapped or field collected, I do that. When I’m not actively working on a project, I’m working to improve the GIS program for the whole organization,” said Sirna.

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