MAGIC Draws Unexpected Participants From Unexplored Places

By Susan Norton

The MidAmerica GIS Consortium, Ltd. (MAGIC) is a nonprofit educational organization established to foster the applications of GIS and related spatial technologies in the mid-continent region. MAGIC states include, but are not limited to: Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota.

In 2009 MAGIC sponsored a number of educational events, in part by providing opportunities for matching funds. MAGIC was concerned about the availability of educational events and, in the current economic climate, participants' ability to attend. MAGIC, along with partners including USGS and state Geographic Information Officers (GIOs), offered travel grants and scholarships to help fund facilities and meal costs. Ultimately, the cost to participants was very low and the events fostered collaboration and education throughout the region. Topics covered included emergency response, state data clearinghouses, rural GIS and data development/distribution. These events provided great opportunities to augment the expertise of regional stakeholders.

Below are highlights from events supported by MAGIC.

The Emergency Response with GIS Workshop - Washington University, University City, MO, May 5, 2009
Forty-two attendees, representing an even mix of first-responders and GIS staff, attended presentations on a variety of emergency response and GIS technologies. This workshop was organized as a one-day event to allow local government first responders and staffers to attend without the need for an overnight stay. Missouri Task Force 1's Scott Olsen discussed recent major responder events and the application of GIS for each. St. Louis County's Brett Lord Castillo presented on Geospatial Area Flood Response. Maryland Height's Andy Wagner presented on Municipal Police and Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL). Washington University's Aaron Addison discussed Event Planning and Response with GIS.

Table-top exercises were designed and moderated by the Missouri State Emergency Management Agency's Debbie Briedwell. They challenged different groups to wrestle with various events and then report on what information users would need at their fingertips to adequately respond to emergency events. Tim Haithcoat, Missouri's State Geographic Information Officer, provided final comments on current funding to support emergency response GIS in different areas of the state. Haithcoat also provided a brief update on some of Missouri's geospatial goals.

Post workshop surveys were extremely positive for this event, with many attendees suggesting additional workshops in the future. While MAGIC was the primary sponsor of this workshop, the Missouri Geographic Advisory Committee (MGISAC) provided funding for breaks.

2009 MAGIC State GIS Clearinghouse Retreat, Lincoln, NE, September 15-16, 2009
The 4th annual MAGIC State GIS Clearinghouse Retreat provided an opportunity for representatives from state GIS programs across the MAGIC region to gather to discuss issues related to clearinghouse operations. Historically, the retreat is hosted by a different state each year, with the goal of holding the event in all of the MAGIC states. Arkansas, Kansas and Missouri have hosted prior Clearinghouse Retreats. MAGIC sponsored travel for two representatives from each state. This year's event drew 22 attendees from nine states, including USGS Geospatial Liaisons from Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota.

The first day's agenda items included a 30-minute program summary from each state; these summaries included an overview of major initiatives. The summaries were followed by a presentation by Rob Dollison (USGS) on the National Map Viewer, a discussion on the impacts of Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) data on the state clearinghouses, and an open discussion on the International Charter.

The second day featured a technical discussion of ESRI server-based technologies including ArcGIS Server, ArcGIS Server Image Extension, and ESRI's Web mapping Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). Lloyd Heberlie from ESRI's St. Louis regional office helped to facilitate the technical discussion.

Rural GIS Summits
The Rural GIS Summit was designed "by rural folks - for rural folks." One of MAGIC's philosophies is to "build once, use often," so this program is ideal for education and outreach. Rural GIS Summit materials are made freely available for other states to use. Iowa and Missouri leadership saw an opportunity to address some of the GIS growing pains both states were experiencing in their rural areas. Each held a Rural GIS Summit in 2009.

Rural GIS practitioners tend to wear more hats than their urban counterparts, often representing a one-person shop. Resources are fewer and networking opportunities may be almost non-existent. Participating in an event for like-minded rural folks creates an environment for voicing concerns and finding solutions. Participants may learn what someone else with the same limited resources and a similar situation has accomplished or they may find the opportunity to join forces to find a viable solution to a mutual problem.

Kirksville, MO, May 20-21, 2009
This two-day summit attracted 64 rural GIS users. MAGIC provided travel funds (up to $100) to those requesting assistance. Most meals were provided and the MGISAC assisted by providing breaks.

Presentations on the first day included topics such as "Why you need GIS - Management," a roundtable discussion by seven rural, one-person GIS shop managers, and a "GIS Return on Investment (ROI) Study - Lessons for Rural Communities from Iowa." Haithcoat provided updates on legislation, standards and resources and inquired about attendees' needs.

Osceola, IA, September 29-30, 2009
The second Rural GIS Summit in Iowa drew 48 attendees representing four states. The Iowa Summit focused on communication about Iowa's state projects and how attendees could get the necessary training to use the available services and products.

The Iowa statewide 2-foot pixel resolution imagery project started in 2009 will be completed in 2010. Aerial Services, Inc., the project contractor, offered counties, cities and others the ability to buy 6-inch imagery for a contracted price. The 2-foot full color imagery will be available for free via download. This is excellent imagery for many relevant rural GIS projects and participants were anxious to get started! Also, the statewide LiDAR project is nearly complete and will provide another useful dataset with training and information available.

The Iowa Geographic Information Council (IGIC) is building the Iowa Geospatial Infrastructure (IGI), starting with a Statewide Geocoding Project that will produce building footprints and structure outlines, building address points, E911 address points and more. With input from many resources, including rural and new-to-GIS folks, the IGI will eventually contain very accurate data for all of the framework GIS data layers. IGIC is also working on creating a County GIS Service Bureau that will provide coordination, training, data hosting, Web applications, online mapping, technical assistance and more.

An event such as the Rural Summit is perfect for spreading the word about all these projects and useful tools, and attendees learn how their agencies and businesses will benefit from them. Participants also learn the sources of the data they use, and how they can help make the data better and the projects more complete. It is likely that MAGIC will continue to sponsor this format for educational workshops, and MAGIC and its partners will grow as a base of support for rural GIS professionals

Invitation to Participate
The projects and workshops above are just some of the examples of how MAGIC is working to expand the geospatial expertise and escalate the development of significant projects nationwide. The MAGIC executive committee invites interested parties to become involved with this volunteer organization. Check out our projects and events, particularly the biennial Symposium on April 18-22 at the Westin Crown Center in Kansas City, Mo. Become a MAGIC participant at any time by joining our listserv, Twitter and Facebook feeds, all at!

Published Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

Written by Susan Norton

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