NSGIC 2005 Annual Meeting: Key Themes

By Adena Schutzberg

NSGIC_LogoThis year's NSGIC annual meeting in Rochester, New York, continued the tradition of respectful questioning and continued pushing and prodding for better use of geospatial technology across federal, state and local government.Here are the key themes from the event.

Disasters Don't Make GIS Successful
While Jim Steil, Director, Mississippi Automated Resource Information System, made it clear in a special session about Katrina one evening that "it seemed more was done [GIS-wise] in the three-and-a-half weeks as had been done in the past three-and-a-half years" the long term maintenance and upkeep of state and federal systems continues to be a challenge.Cy Smith, Oregon GIS Coordinator, highlighted a story of a fire (where there were no victims) and GIS was successfully used.Did that help garner support for long term work? No.

"The National Map is Alive and Well"
While USGS National Map technology is used by several states to front their state initiatives (see for example NC OneMap) and it serves as a backdrop for Geospatial One-Stop (GOS) queries, there is continued concern about how the program fits in with GOS, the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) and other efforts.When this statement was made to the attendees, it was greeted with howls of laughter.

Geospatial One-Stop Update
The GOS board meeting held at NSGIC provided an update on the progress of the initiative.The likely final build of the GOS 2 portal was delivered recently and Executive Director Hank Garie expects to sign off on it in the coming weeks.To date there are about 100,000 cleaned metadata records to search and nearly 1,000 records in the marketplace area detailing planned or needed data acquisition activity.There was much praise for the role GOS played in Katrina, though Garie noted at one point, "We found ourselves scrambling to populate [GOS] for Katrina." One theme that reverberated through the meeting: work educating geospatial professionals about GOS is complete; it's time to move on to other communities.While some percentage of practitioners know of GOS (the last poll I read, fall 2004, said 40% had never heard of it!) how many use it even today? If we as the community do not use this vital tool, how can we reach out to "non GIS" people and ask them to do so?

GISCorps in Action
Dick Kotapish of the Lake County, Ohio, GIS Department shared his experience as the first GISCorps volunteer down to the Emergency Operation Center in Jackson, Mississippi.Among his stories: the importance of "downtime" in keeping volunteers sane, the fact that one set of volunteers loved to download and look at imagery while in fact vector data was what was needed to get the job done, and the use of MapQuest to geocode addresses called in from cell phones (which were then located in ArcGIS to determine lat/long data) for search and rescue teams.He also noted that the "huge savoir was Google" and could not say enough of the use of Groove (a tool for collaboration).Much of what he explained about setting up an administrative structure - like forms for requesting maps - echoed what I recall from those on site at 9/11.

Marrying Cyber Security to Physical Security
Will Pelgrin, the director of New York State's Office of Cyber Security and Critical Infrastructure Coordination (also known as state coordinator Bill Johnson's boss) presented a rapid-fire keynote tracing the history of GIS in New York State.Key events included the great ice storm of 1998 (which I recall as I was at ESRI Boston then), Y2K (remember that?), then 9/11.Pelgrin was the one who convinced the state (he's a lawyer by training) that cyber security should be paired with critical infrastructure security and made the point to us by noting if one goes down, so does the other.That's especially true if you include communications (wireless, phone, etc.) on the cyber side. Is that where GIS should fall in other state and federal agencies?

Imagery for the Nation
Over the past year, NSGIC has developed a vision to define a sustainable and flexible digital aerial imagery program to serve all levels of government and private partners.Under consideration later this week is a resolution to that effect.Material from NSGIC suggests that $255 million would cover a three year cycle including imagery at 6", 1 ft and 1 meter, depending on density.Participants could "buy up" should they want higher resolution for their geography.The vision is that such a project would be fully funded by the federal government and that the data would remain in the public domain.While this seems a lofty goal, it's more focused than past discussions I've heard at NSGIC for federal funding of geodata.It's also timely; just now with all the imagery on the Internet and the recent use of imagery during Katrina and Rita, knowledge of the value of imagery is higher than it's ever been.

Imagery Hosting via TerraServer
George Lee of USGS shared that Microsoft and USGS, who signed a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) in 1996 to develop TerraServer, are ready for more.In particular, they are inviting federal agencies, states and local government's to publish their imagery via TerraServer.States, including New York and Florida, are already developing pilots, though the New York one, which he hoped to demonstrate, was not yet ready.Lee explained that the public domain data would stay in the public domain (just as the current data served by Microsoft does) and that administrative tools would be in place to "turn off" data that might be considered sensitive.Beyond that, he noted these benefits to those who might participate: free hosting, free Internet browsing by the public, free OGC-compliant Web Map Service, free backup of data, acknowledgment of ownership and more.Frankly, the whole thing seems too good to be true.And there is a twist: the data is part of TerraServer, now part of the MapPoint Business Unit, and thus part of Microsoft Virtual Earth.So, it's entirely possible it might end up in a "local search" done for local pizza joints.Details are being worked out (contact your local USGS liaison to discuss) but this is most intriguing.

For more on the meeting, see these blog entries:

NSGIC 05 Geospatial Bluebook
NSGIC 05 Ramona
NSGIC 05 Nearly 50 States
NSGIC 05 Some News from the States

Published Friday, September 30th, 2005

Written by Adena Schutzberg

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