GIS Serves the Public in More Ways than Meets the Eye
by guest contributor Ted Steinbrecher
Thanks to online mapping tools such as Google Maps or MapQuest, even the “map-challenged” among us can access driving directions from Point A to Point B, whether cross-town or across the country. Navigation systems can help drivers locate places of business, gas stations, restaurants, and even bank ATMs through a combination of real-time location sensing and business intelligence. These tools, targeted to the general public, are powered by geographic information systems (GIS).
The public is also served by GIS through less direct – but just as impactful – applications used by state and local governments and agencies.
Let’s take a look at two examples of the application of GIS technology for demographic analysis for the purpose of analyzing school district boundaries. GIS applications enable student records to be integrated with mapping tools, allowing administrative staff to locate new facilities, project future enrollments, redraw existing boundaries and distribute staff members where they are needed most.
State and local governments involved in complex construction and/or maintenance projects can realize great economies of time, materials, and labor by using GIS to coordinate their efforts.
As a result, facility planners and educational administrators can allocate resources more effectively, thereby improving the quality of education for all students in their service area. The benefits to the constituents include better utilization of existing facilities, provision of fair and efficient new school locations for children to attend, and minimizing the impact on students when boundary changes are considered.
Online interactive maps also allow parents to easily access information regarding their children’s schools. In Fairfax County, Virginia, entering the student’s home address in the Boundary Information System returns search results containing the name, address, phone number and link to the schools websites which serve that location. The Beaumont Unified School District WebQuery also displays this information – as well as the distance to each school and whether or not the student is eligible for bus transportation.
Transportation needs within a regional area have been analyzed through the use of GIS tools for over 20 years. Transportation departments in both state and local governments have been using GIS to design and implement strategies, maintain highways, manage facilities, and plan for capital improvements. Policy makers realize that GIS can make a dollars-and-cents difference in deploying and operating transportation systems.
Case in point: The Chicago Metropolitan Area for Planning’s transportation efforts rely heavily on GIS applications. Its website contains detailed GIS-generated maps that can assist traffic congestion management, construction planning, traffic projections and other similar topics.
An early use of GIS was to simply publish paper maps of projects planned by state Departments of Transportation and send them to local jurisdictions. Now, state and local governments involved in complex construction and/or maintenance projects can realize great economies of time, materials, and labor by using GIS to coordinate their efforts. This ability to get the big picture allows planners to make transportation decisions in a more holistic manner and more effectively address complex quality of life and environmental issues.
About the Author
Over the past thirty-seven years, Ted Steinbrecher has accumulated a unique combination of progressive experience in the public sector market. Early in his career, he served in the suburban Chicago area in municipal positions such as Assistant Village Manager and Director of Public Services.
Mr. Steinbrecher later became a senior consultant and technology solution provider/vendor to the public safety industry. He is currently president of TS & Partners, LLC, a public sector consulting firm specializing in information technology.
He graduated with honors from Roosevelt University (Chicago) with a Masters in Public Administration degree and holds a bachelor’s degree in Government from Monmouth College (Monmouth, Illinois).
MuniNetGuide Expands Maps & GIS Category
What is GIS? In the simplest of terms, a geographic information system (GIS) brings together information from traditional cartography (maps), statistical analysis, and databases that jointly provide a means to assess real-world conditions. The key word that defines this technology is geographic, referring to data that is, in various methods, tied to a specific location – or grouping of locations – on the earth.
What’s the difference between maps and GIS? Traditional paper maps are two dimensional; north and south, east and west. The world is still pretty much flat in the paper map world. GIS, however, adds a third dimension – the database – to the standard map view. For example, every parcel of land has a location on a two-dimensional map. However, additional data such as the zoning of the parcel, the availability of utilities, and the distance to main arterial roads make up the attributes stored in the database. It is the relationship between these two data types that enables GIS to be such an effective problem solving tool through spatial analysis.
Who uses GIS and why? Many governments and agencies – at the federal, state, and local levels – use GIS to help in planning and organizing geographic data. In addition:
- Many police departments, fire departments and other emergency services have begun to use GIS to help in their daily operations. GIS software can help officials track crime; find the shortest route to emergencies and more; and increase security measures.
- Health care professionals use GIS to track the spread of disease and wellness information.
- Communication technology companies use GIS in planning of their utility expansions.
- Meteorologists use GIS technologies to identify, analyze and forecast weather patterns and conditions.
- A wide array of businesses also uses GIS. For example, real estate agents and bankers can use GIS to track properties, property values, and analyze tax information. A host of other businesses use it for marketing purposes.
- Whether knowingly or not, the general public has increased its reliance on GIS through online mapping tools, in-dashboard automobile navigation systems, and portable GPS units that provide driving directions and identify points of interest.
MuniNetGuide has expanded its collection of links to online mapping and GIS resources in its recently enhanced Maps & GIS category.