Thursday, June 18, 2015

Location Matters: GIS in Colorado

Consider this scenario: Flood waters are rising in several Colorado communities and and there is a desperate need to communicate where damage has occurred, what roads are closed and what neighborhoods are inaccessible. Similarly, state government needs to assemble information on the damage locations and possible impacted facilities, like water treatment plants and oil wells, to plan allocation of response resources. On top of all this, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) must get information to coordinate resources and direct funds for recovery.

You probably spend a lot of time looking at Google Maps for things like finding the closest coffee shop, but mapped information, or geographic data, is critical to local, state and federal government as well. Such data are captured, managed and analyzed in Geographic Information Systems (GIS), and many state agencies use GIS routinely.

With the flood example, coordinating GIS data is the key to make it freely available and usable. That’s where the our GIS Coordination & Development Program comes in, and here is just some of what we have going on:
  1. Creating a statewide database of standardized address locations. Why are we doing this? This is Google right? Not really. Google and other online navigation sites don’t do as well in rural or exurban areas. For example, one eastern Colorado resident called OIT worried that his Garmin device showed his address in the middle of a lake. We get data directly from local governments that manage their addresses, and with it can analyze the number of residences and businesses impacted by a disaster more quickly.
  2. Coordinating local and other GIS data. If you want to use geographic data within a GIS, the question often arises, “What data is available, and how do I get it?” We are creating a single point of collection for local GIS data and making it available to all state agencies. This means that state agencies can be more efficient, spending more time on work rather than looking for data. It also means local governments don’t get multiple requests for the same data from different state agencies and that data will be available more expediently to FEMA and other agencies in an emergency. If you are interested in using GIS, you can find state data easily on the Colorado Information Marketplace.
  3. Working with Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management to support GIS use in emergencies. How will the state and federal governments develop a comprehensive picture of the scope of emergencies in order to allocate response and recovery resources properly? This requires a significant amount of coordination and aggregation of data from local, state and federal entities, and OIT is assisting by leading this coordination effort.
  4. Gathering and maintaining broadband data. We are collecting coverage data from broadband providers and creating a statewide database of broadband coverage. And we’re displaying this data on this interactive web map. This allows the state to know where broadband service exists for planning, policy and potential funding. It also allows residents to find out which providers offer broadband service in their neighborhood.
  5. Supporting other state agencies’ GIS. Developing online mapping applications to show data and allow customers to interact with the information often requires specialized skills and resources. When state agencies don’t have the resources, OIT assists them by supporting these applications. This allows the State Land Board to show Coloradans State Trust Lands locations, the Department of Agriculture to collect input from stakeholders on the presence of noxious weeds to use federal funds effectively, and the Office of Emergency Management to show Colorado residents what hazards are prevalent in their neighborhood, just to name a few examples.
Earlier this month we hosted the GIS Data Coordination Summit with more than 80 representatives of GIS programs at state and county levels attending, showcasing the need for GIS coordination. Our discussions helped identify the need for GIS data in key business areas like emergency management, law enforcement, economic development, transportation management and natural resource management. We will use this feedback to shape a tactical plan that will be shared by July 2015 and will guide Colorado's GIS coordination over the next year.
Jon Gottsegen: State GIS Coordinator. Geospatial thought leader. Find me on Twitter at @COGISCoord.

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