A Healthy Perspective on Spatial Data Standards and Interoperability

By Dr. Charles Croner

Charles CronerFrom my perspective, few things are as important as having U.S.State and local health departments connect to Intranet and Internet environments and share geospatial data holdings and metadata, standardized for interoperability. State and local health departments are the public health building blocks for the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI).Recently, several noteworthy developments of connecting local geospatial health databases to the public have occurred in South Carolina and California. The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control and First 5 California [formerly California Children and Families Commission], respectively, have created online public GIS accessibility to a variety of small area public health geospatial databases that only a few years ago might not have been available.[Editor's note: First 5 California was the 2nd place winner for the government category in our recent Web Mapping Contest.]
Key issues of spatial data standards, metadata, Internet interoperability and data confidentiality may well dictate the pace at which we roll out the public health spatial data infrastructure piece of the NSDI.The Mapping Science Committee of the National Research Council has made this similar message clear over the years to the entire GIS community.In the July 2003 edition of Public Health GIS News and Information, I reiterated some of these conditions as they pertain to DHHS.If we proceed without uniform geospatial data content standards, we will be relegated to the lowest resolution format of spatial data integration.Much higher resolution data will not be part of the national picture and much resource will be expended to reconcile disparities.Standardized protocols are needed for how we define, make accessible and share data, and (especially in public health) protect the confidentiality of individuals and households (and possibly others) in the database.
I call your attention to the latest (2003) General Accounting Office testimony, "Geographic Information Systems: Challenges to Effective Data Sharing". It clearly warns that the federal government Geospatial One-Stop initiative, in the absence of:
  • Standardized geospatial data;
  • Consistent implementation of standards across government;
  • Creation of a complete and useful inventory of federal data holdings and their respective metadata; and
  • Inclusion of all representative stakeholders in the decision making process
...will face serious challenges to implementing the NSDI anytime soon.It serves to remind us to continue to work diligently on the bindings that insure geospatial data integration.
[Editor's Note: Dr.Croner serves as Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Representative to the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) and Editor,Public Health GIS News and Information.He is a Geographer and Survey Statistician with the National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Hyattsville, Maryland

Published Saturday, August 2nd, 2003

Written by Dr. Charles Croner

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