Experts push GIS for homeland

Wyoming's governor and several high-profile geographic information systems

experts called for a national mapping initiative that would help federal,

state and local governments deal with homeland security issues.

"GIS is in the same league as we develop e-mail, as we develop the Internet,"

Gov. Jim Geringer, a longtime champion for mapping and data initiatives,

told attendees April 8 at the National Association of State Chief Information

Officers' midyear conference in Denver.

Real-time information for first responders is critical in any situation,

the experts said, including natural disasters such as earthquakes and tornadoes.

Geringer said that following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, the

New York City GIS office processed 2,600 requests for information from 75

agencies, the news media and the federal government, and GIS applications

helped response and recovery teams. For example, thermal maps showed fires

below the World Trade Center, the stability of the remaining buildings and

rubble, and utility outages.

GIS experts said the technology would help with detection and prevention,

risk assessment and planning, mitigation, preparedness, protection, response

and recovery. Quality and up-to-date GIS data would help people make informed

decisions, they said. "That [data] integration cannot be overemphasized,"

Geringer said.

All speakers called for a national mapping initiative to tie together

all the disparate data silos throughout the country. One such initiative

is the National Spatial Data Infrastructure ({http://www.fgdc.gov/nsdi/nsdi.html}

www.fgdc.gov/nsdi/nsdi.html), a federal initiative that would share geospatial

data among all governmental levels, the private sector, and with other nonprofit

and academic institutions, said Karen Siderelis, geographic information

officer with the U.S. Geological Survey.

But obstacles exist, she said, including a lack of common business practices,

funding, systems, expertise and awareness. She urged states to get involved

in the project as well as look on GIS as a priority. Geringer said standards

and interoperability are major concerns as well.

Bryan Logan, president and chief executive officer of EarthData, which

aided New York City with aerial mapping data following the terrorist attacks,

said mobile rapid response is the next step in providing information to

first responders dealing with a crisis.

In six months, his company plans to do a demonstration in which a plane

would fly over a site, collect and download data, and transmit it to those

who need it on the ground within three hours.

But he said it's been more than six months since the terrorist attacks

and there has been more talk than action. "We have not really put anything

new in the hands of people who rush into situations," he said.

Jack Dangermond, president of ESRI, said the nation should take advantage

of the estimated 75,000 GIS users in the nation and the $50 billion invested

in building such systems. He said common data models, open GIS technology,

collaborative funding, policies for open data sharing, expertise, and political

leadership are required to use GIS as a homeland security tool.

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