Federal Agencies ‘Mapping and Apping the Nation’

Federal Agencies ‘Mapping and Apping the Nation’

Maps today are much more than an outline of shapes and landmarks. We use them all the time in combination with the vast amount of information available online to plan for the weather, find a restaurant and even work out a travel plan to avoid traffic in real time. Putting together and manipulating all sorts of data into a map is called a geographic information system, or GIS. Federal agencies increasingly turn to them as the best way to put their work into context and plan out their goals. Thanks to cloud-based networking, smartphones can apply new data useful in the field as fast as it can be put into an app.


“[GIS is] mapping and apping the nation,” said Jack Dangermond, president of GIS software company Esri.

Every federal agency in the country sends representatives to the annual Esri Federal GIS Conference to learn and share with each other and experts about how to use GIS in their work. Esri is the world’s largest GIS software maker, creating almost half the relevant programs the world over and acting as a partner with the U.S. government in their GIS work using their ArcGIS system.

“In many ways GIS is a platform for understanding,” Dangermond said. “It’s comprehensive in the sense that it’s holistic.”

Dangermond spoke at the conference’s plenary session Monday. The conference includes sessions on technical advances as well as application ideas.

As the technology advances, data can be used even for such mundane efforts as postal service, lowering costs by improving direct mail targeting.

“This is taking GIS into a different dimension,” Dangermond said, citing how it was used for consolidating the Smithsonian Institute as well as other facilities management by agencies.

Applying information on wilderness areas to the maps has implications for resource management and environmental concerns that can really make a difference. Planning for forest management in the wake of wildfires, plotting out the habitats of wildlife and working out ways to harvest natural resources without harming wildlife are all more feasible with GIS tools.

During the talk, Dangermond spoke in particular about NOAA’s work with GIS, awarding the agency the Making a Difference Award for their use of GIS to map coastal flooding and visualizing potential off-shore wind farms.

“[NOAA’s] pushing science as we know it,” he said.

Of course the maps themselves wouldn’t be much use without data to fill them, which is where the new programs to combine data from many sources into new maps come into play.

“GIS is all about integration,” Dangermond said. “[We’re] enriching the world of GIS professionals with new kinds of information.”

A lot of the information used to make the maps is public and encouraging the public to use the available maps and even contribute their own is part of the next big push for agencies using GIS. Mapping out where public money is spent and how and making government more transparent is all possible with the technology.

“It’s connecting citizens with government,” Dangermond said. “GIS is changing how we think and how we act, it’s a big assertion but I see it.”

Just for fun check out this ArcGIS map that superimposes an 1836 map of the District over a modern satellite map.

Read original story by Eric Hal Sacwartz at InTheCapital

Categories: GIS

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