GIS Tech News #4

11 Apr, 2005 By: Arnie Williams

Cadalyst GIS Tech News

Three Perspectives on GIS

Organizations call on geospatial data to address
internal and external needs

In the past few issues of GIS Tech News (click here for archives), we've looked at GIS as a tool of disaster recovery, primarily in relation to the devastating Asian tsunami. In such catastrophes, the value of good geographic data comes to the fore. Last month, we switched gears just a bit to consider how location-based services are drawing on GIS data to extend the value and reach of cellular communications. This month, we'll take a look at different uses of GIS data through three examples of how users are employing GIS technology. This should provide a more rounded view of how GIS is having an impact on global communities.

Public Access to Flood Maps
FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), a group well-known for its role in responding to natural disasters at the national level, uses ArcGIS technology from ESRI in its Multi-Hazard Flood Map Modernization Program. This program's purpose is to update and convert paper maps to digital flood insurance rate maps to enable better hazard mapping for planning and risk management.

The public can access these multihazard maps at, which features an interactive atlas of 30 map servers with 781 active map layers. FEMA's Cooperating Technical Partners Program works with National Flood Insurance Program communities to keep flood maps up to date. Information is then leveraged through integration with statewide GIS systems.

Among other tools developed by FEMA for risk-assessment activities is a HAZUS-MH software program that uses GIS data to help analyze potential losses from natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes, wind and earthquakes. By combining hazard layers with data sets of demographics, building inventories, transportation networks and utilities, FEMA's Mitigation Division is incorporating National Institute of Building Sciences research into the effects of natural disasters.

Beyond physical damage, the program also projects the economic costs of reconstruction, business interruptions and lost jobs.

Utility Outage Response
In addition to facilitating flood-plain studies and the like in preparation for the ravages of nature, GIS is also ideally suited to the kinds of planning and recovery associated with utility infrastructure — gas and electric services, for example. WPS Resources is an energy holding company headquartered in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Its major subsidiary is Wisconsin Public Service, a regulated electric and natural gas utility that generates and distributes energy in northeastern Wisconsin and adjacent areas of Michigan.

WPS Resources recently selected Intergraph's Outage Management System, which is based on its InService technology, to replace the in-house WPS Service Restoration System. The Intergraph InService-based system will provide interfaces to the utility's CIS (customer information system), its GIS system and areas such as vehicle asset record, automated meter reading, corporate labor records and response-time systems. Plans are in place to extend the system to supervisory control and data acquisition later on.

InService will analyze operating data to help predict and correct potential distribution network failures. The system will also help WPS network operations, accepting calls from the CIS and indicating the probable source of failure, which will reduce the time required for restoration.

WPS CEO and president Larry L. Weyers says, "Providing our customers with reliable and affordable service is our top priority. With the [Outage Management System's] interactive graphic display and Web-based executive dashboard, our organization can increase crew efficiency and more effectively manage day-to-day operations. The system will also allow us to report real-time outage restoration progress to our customers, reaffirming our commitment to deliver superior service."

Corporate GIS Reaches Citizens
The city of Vancouver, British Columbia, considered one of the world's most beautiful cities, provides a service to residents called VanMap, based on Autodesk MapGuide technology. Launched in 1999, VanMap has an ambitious but straightforward goal: Get more and better information to people more easily.

Says Jonathan Mark, Vancouver's GIS manager, "Our engineering staff designs the city's infrastructure, so access to up-to-date data helps us serve residents better. That's an obvious benefit," he says, "but accessible GIS data can have a positive impact on everyone. From business to recreation to public safety, the uses are almost endless."

Automated mapping systems are not new to Vancouver, and indeed, Canada leads the rest of the world in its early and consistent application of GIS technologies. The city began using an automated mapping system as early as 1982, which allowed engineers to make changes to maps and engineering plans electronically. But even though this early system was a leap ahead of the previous paper-based system, it nevertheless limited access by those outside engineering. That began to change in 1990 with more advanced technology, which in turn inspired the city's IT, engineering and planning departments to move from departmental automated mapping to corporate GIS.

The city still had to face the hurdle of the public's lack of access to sophisticated GIS tools to take advantage of the corporate GIS system. That has all changed with the VanMap system. The city staff has been using the system since 1999 and the public since 2001. Through the Web, site visitors can navigate to the map-based information they need, then pan and zoom. This includes data on systemwide water and sewage maps down to manhole covers and valve labels. Residents and businesses can find zoning information and details on public works projects in their areas, including street closures and schedules.

"Our police department has used [VanMap] to access up-to-date street layouts around major crime scenes," says Mark, "and the city clerk's department uses it to post voting results by location on election night as well as to revise voting boundaries. In the beginning, an average of 200 to 300 staff members used VanMap each month, and that number has increased to more than 650 to 700," he adds. "In one recent month, the public VanMap site was accessed by over 2,800 people."

FEMA Digital Flood Insurance Rate Maps
Intergraph InService Suite
WPS Resources
Autodesk MapGuide
Vancouver, British Columbia, GIS

Arnie Williams, former editor-in-chief of CADENCE magazine, is a freelance author specializing in the CAD industry. E-mail Arnie at

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GIS in the Rockies
September 21-23, 2005
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