Viewpoints

Application of geospatial solutions grows

By Swapan Nag

Government agencies have played a key role in expanding the field of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) since the 1970s. Since then, the desire to collect, organize, analyze and distribute information quickly and efficiently has helped GIS find homes at most metropolitan counties and cities for public works, planning and economic development needs. But with the advent of web mapping, and especially the introduction of Google maps, GIS’ applications are becoming more diverse.

With the advances of web mapping, geospatial solutions have matured from static thematic maps into more dynamic representations of reality and increased situational awareness. Today, web geospatial solutions offer real-time tracking and the ability to borrow and leverage data from others in cloud-based platforms — resulting in a nearly accurate visual of what is happening in the world. With the assistance of active two-way communication — where everyone is serving simultaneously as both provider and user of information — accuracy is further enhanced.

As a result, geospatial engineers can find new uses and applications in the fields of emergency response, criminal tracking, transportation, sustainable development and operational management. As interest grows, we will see more examples of:

•   GPS systems aboard buses and public safety vehicles providing real-time location and transit information;

•   Emergency response alerts distributed with moment-to-moment currency in evolving situations and events;

•   Mobile workers being assigned jobs based on physical proximity, while reporting issues and filing out reports on site using mobile devices.

Emergency response metrics are one of the most significant areas where geospatial applications are dramatically improving overall efficiency. Today’s GIS systems use audio detection to send alerts in seconds of an incident to nearby safety jurisdictions. Real-time tracking of police, fire and emergency medical vehicles allows for a better coordinated response by first responders, with command and control centers playing an effective management role based on up-to-date intelligence of evolving situations.

With these systems, local and state governments get a better snapshot of who was in the area right before an incident. They offer the ability to trace and provide a list of cell phone numbers within a certain area and beyond, which can assist in creating a list of those safe and potentially injured and possible suspects quickly and easily.

Regionally, geospatial technologies are improving how quickly large-scale movements are coordinated and how fast resources are deployed to the exact locations they are needed. Recent applications of this technology at the Homeland Security Fusion Centers in Louisiana and Alabama are setting the standard for effective emergency planning with solutions that help coordinate evacuation of facilities and enable agencies to track personnel to make sure everyone is accounted for during emergencies.

In transportation, real-time tracking of traffic along freeways has had a significant impact on enabling traffic professionals to mitigate transportation bottlenecks and resolve traffic incidents with the least amount of delay.

Real-time monitoring of ex-offenders and other criminal activity is another area that can significant benefit from geospatial technologies. Geographic profiling has largely replaced the manual pins on maps to allow police track crime and criminals, and trace cell phone calls, dramatically improving their chances at solving crimes expediently.

As geospatial solutions have matured, and its uses have expanded, A new standardization of sharing and borrowing web geospatial data resources is taking hold and allowing agencies across the globe to create a single digital image of what is happening in our world. With better accuracy, government agencies are able to do their job and serve the public better.

Swapan Nag is CEO and founder of NAG, Inc., a technology firm that specializes in providing geospatial and data-visualization solutions.

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