Former NYC official urges wider use of GIS

Geographic information systems are vital to critical infrastructure protection and homeland security, former New York City official Alan Leidner told public safety officials at the InfraGard 2006 National Conference this week in Washington, D.C.

In his 35-year tenure in New York City government, Leidner developed GIS applications that were instrumental in the city's response to the 2001 terrorist attacks. GIS helped the city manage an outbreak of West Nile virus. Officials use GIS applications daily for 911 dispatching.

Leidner, now a senior associate at Booz Allen Hamilton, said the Federal Emergency Management Agency incorporates flood plain mapping to help protect lives affected by Hurricane Katrina. Also, the Census Bureau expects to use GIS in the upcoming 2010 census to map trends.

Although initial costs might outweigh immediate benefits, over time GIS’ benefits compensate for the initial costs, Leidner said.

To help get state and local governments started using GIS, Leidner recommended that local governments apply for federal grants, starting at a few hundred thousand dollars.

In New York City, for example, $100,000 enabled the Metropolitan Transit Authority to map the layouts of more than 468 stations in a matter of months. The blueprints for stations can be overlaid on existing street maps to give first responders exact locations of incidents. Station tracks and air vents are being mapped out to offer further protection.

Leidner said he believes that the successes of GIS in New York can lead to bigger things. He said that state and local governments are the workhorses of GIS, with local coverage leading the way in the technology. However, officials must take steps to share the local information, he said.

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