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By Mike Gundling, Vice President, Product Management and Marketing, TerraGo Technologies
A hurricane hits and first responders scramble to share maps to dispatch units and coordinate response across agencies. Personnel on the ground provide real-time location reports of electrical outages, damage assessments and road closings. New law enforcement resources unfamiliar with the area come from federal and state agencies to assist in the response, guided by detailed maps of alternate roads and population areas. Transportation professionals update evacuation routes for the public maps and work to identify areas suitable for helicopter landings. Meanwhile the public monitors the constantly changing situation for advisory notices for their neighborhood.
As our response to emergencies improves with lessons learned, more agencies are becoming involved in the response, needing to share more maps and more location-based reports. The challenges remain though with outdated legacy systems and procedures that are relics of a stove-piped era that didn’t easily support universal access. And because of budget limitations, some stakeholders remain in the dark, unable to deploy expensive geographic software. In the end, many agencies still struggle with sharing maps and location reports when it’s needed most.
Some agencies have found a solution. And it’s free — for all stakeholders, end users and the public. The solution enables them to provide rich GIS data, maps, imagery and tools to desktops, laptops, tablets and phones. These agencies are creating web-based Geospatial Information System (GIS) portals that provide free, on-demand, customized maps for all types of public sector needs. The opportunity for in-staff (vertical) and intra-agency (horizontal) collaboration, along with citizen engagement increases with cloud and mobile access.
Whether it’s an emergency or non-emergency workflow, geographic data acquisition and sharing is streamlined, work done faster, costs cut and services improved with the help of technology designed for universal free access, without requiring specialized software or training.
Let’s take a look at 10 government areas where web-based GIS portals can unlock geospatial platforms to help agencies start sharing without limitations.
#10: Agriculture – Crop and resource management tools to increase yields and react to market changes were once limited to agri-businesses with resources to create GIS systems to generate proprietary products, and to hire professionals to use them. But more than half of the operations in the U.S. — and even more worldwide, are still classified as small farms — and now they can take advantage of agencies’ open-cloud, web-based resources to gain efficiencies. With mobile devices and free software, farmers can share maps and can crowdsource interactive, drone-generated, location-tagged crop pictures to identify maturity and spot growth. They can digitize field boundaries and take soil samples. Even more important in some areas, images can show water trends, helping farmers manage that scarce resource.
#9: Environment – The need for information sharing grows with pressure on resources and with an increasingly interested population. That population wants information and is savvy enough find it – if it’s available. It’s up to agencies to share tailored maps and other imagery on specific locations. The key here is being sure that expensive software isn’t required to give employees, contractors and the public at large access.
#8: Land Management – There are 250 million acres of land and 700 million acres of sub-surface mineral rights under the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Questions on rights-of-way, mining claims, livestock grazing and conservation can be answered with drone imagery that should be easily obtainable through open-web access. Those answers can foster dialogue between the government and the public not otherwise possible.
#7: Census and Survey – The daunting task of getting information from more than 320 million U.S. citizens, combined with the growing challenge of data and analysis, requires customized GIS data collection applications. With today’s technology, apps and forms can be designed without coding or systems integration. Sharing the data means more than flat images and tables. End users benefit from interactive maps and location-based queries that help answer questions about the data behind the maps. And it all needs to be shared without proprietary software, with policymakers, demographers and all stakeholders who rely on the census for decision making.
#6: Transportation and Logistics – An increasingly geo-savvy and technically adept public is becoming more demanding as it gets more involved. Meeting that demand is the role of interactive platforms that not only guide projects, but also engage the public in discussions of areas such as environmental and economic impacts. A web portal facilitates dialogue between officials and the public, explaining data and gathering input for decision-making.
#5: Energy – While democratizing data applies to most of these areas, it’s particularly important in energy, which uses maps and location-tagged images and reports to build and inspect pipelines, move around work crews, comply with regulations, share information between office and field, and limit outages and costs. That requires flexible and accommodating software to facilitate mobile use of GIS, CAD, drone and LIDAR imagery and other geographic data. These end users don’t have GIS, CAD or imagery software, yet they need the data.
#4: Forestry and Natural Resources – Geography and the challenge of remote operation have historically driven custom GIS application development. The emergence of the cloud and mobile GPS capability makes it fast and easy to share maps and customize apps. This new technology also comes with survey-grade location accuracy, and is considerably less expensive than dedicated devices. It also offers the opportunity to work off the grid – viewing and updating maps without a network connection.
#3: Facilities and Asset Management – Every project looks different, but government and society tend to integrate projects whether formally or informally to meet customer demand and enhance value. With a cloud-based portal, users can access maps and geospatial data over the Web with mobile devices to share CAD, GIS and other location-enabled data.
#2: Security – Much of the security apparatus was created out of legacy systems and sometimes still struggles with information sharing across agency lines and with the public. Add, too, the value of social media-driven crowdsourcing in helping with disaster relief, and the need for location-based data has never been more critical. So is the need to be able to work offline in affected areas. The solution is web-based portals that provide on-demand customized maps and lightweight GIS applications to enterprise and mobile users, government and the public alike. Agency personnel and citizen volunteers can use mobile devices to exchange location-based observations, such as photos to report damage and help direct evacuation and recovery efforts.
#1: Health and Safety – Everyone is a stakeholder, but not everyone is a GIS user. While data to serve these stakeholders is growing, demand for data is growing faster, which is why GIS analytics are challenged by tough questions. The answer is intuitive, self-service, free tools: Web-based portals open to educate medical personnel, citizens at large and companies that can provide services needed by the public.
The common thread that runs through these areas is that the vast majority of people who benefit from GIS and geospatial data don’t have GIS and geospatial software. GIS portals provide universal, free access to maps, along with free tools for all users, not just geospatial experts. More and more agencies are using this approach to break through old barriers, unlock geospatial assets, better serve citizens and achieve mission goals.
About the Author:
Mike Gundling is Vice President of Product Management and Marketing at TerraGo. Gundling has a proven track record for over 20 years in launching market-changing products in the radar, satellite-based navigation, air traffic management, and enterprise mobility software industries. To learn more visit www.terragotech.com