NSGIC 2014 Midyear Takeaways

The National States Geographic Information Council (NSGIC) Midyear is one of two meetings a year for the state GIS coordinators and key players in their space such as representatives of federal agencies, vendors, and related professional groups. Below are the important ideas I learned in my two days in Annapolis Maryland earlier this week. Slide decks are available online.

Maryland to Open its Property Data


Barney Krucoff, Maryland, highlighted changes in that states data availability. Maryland sold property data for 22 years, but with the budget in place it looks like it will soon be free. The state has both a Socrata implementation and an ArcGIS Online one. It was basically a simpler process to put the data into ArcGIS Online. The two content delivery systems have different properties. In particular: Socrata license enables hosting a limited number of datasets but ArcGIS Online “costs” credits.


Utah Tests Esri Open Data Initiative Tools


Bert Granberg, Utah, with Bill Greer of Esri, showed off a prototype ArcGIS Open Data Initiative implementation. The current open data site is built on Wordpress but interestingly includes dedicated, findable URLs, something Esri is touting with the open data tools.


The key points Greer made about the implementation:

  • group based
  • branded site 
  • for non-technical users
  • supports a “shopping cart” metaphor 
  • Excel support (including filtering)
  • anonymous data downloads
  • active preview of the selected data
  • availability (as part of ArcGIS Online): April


Articulating NSDI Challenges and Solutions Session


A two part session featured (1) a 90 minute open discussion about challenges to the creation of the national spatial data infrastructure (NSDI), aka the framework layers and (2) a 90 minute session aimed at finding solutions to those challenges. The key takeaways we identified at the end included:

  • Mission specific projects work, framework layers fail perhaps because they are not mission specific (I described this as a version of “tragedy of the commons.”)
  • Framework layers that do work have a strong lead agency (for example, the National Hydropgraphy Dataset
  • Need to involve the private sector
  • Need a standard operating procedure (SOP) and a way to communicate it
  • Figure out core standards for frameworks as opposed to complete detailed ones; these would still support a large customer base
  • “Figure out how much you have to pay to get them to dance with you” that is, determine a meaningful incentive for participation
  • Track how the money is used
  • Collect base spatial data in a standard way; allow users to join attributes as  needed so they can support specific needs

There were also sessions in this format on transportation, national address database and emergency management. Most people who shared reactions to the sessions liked them, but wanted more focused goals, perhaps more formal facilitation, and a plan for moving forward.


Skits Work! Can Teach about NextGen 911!


Several coordinators were tapped into service to perform a little skit about the changes expected in the change over from current 911 and E911 services to Next Generation 911 . Each actor played a different player in NG 911: landline carrier, location service provider, Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP), even a cell tower. 


The skit was prompted by some overly technical explanations at a previous meeting. This “production” was a big hit and very well received. It provided a great base for discussions of how state coordinators might be involved in the transition. Some key things I learned:

  • Many of the update issues are cultural; dispatchers at PSAPs do what they do how they do it
  • 911 community uses its current tools well but don’t have a bigger picture of GIS and what other data types can do for them
  • They may not ask for things they do not know they need; dispatchers in St. George Utah were using four year old data. When asked why, they agreed it was a good idea to get updated data. But, they’d not have asked for it.
  • “Dispatchers save seconds, second save lives”
  • There will likely be considerable PSAP consolidation; there are 6000 PSAPs in the U.S. and 1000 are in NJ, MA and Ohio. 

Updating Census Data from State and Local Governments


Brian Timko and Lynda Liptrap of Census shared updates on efforts to update Census datasets. Liptrap described a pilot that updates TIGER data with state DOT data. The pilot was done in North and South Carolina since there’s a shared border, the use of both Esri and Intergraph solutions and the states have mature databases. Things look promising!


GSS is partnership program for improving address/centerline overage for the 2020 census started back in 2012. Timko explained that about a dozen states and many counties are involved thus far. The big news is that after some legal wrangling, Census is able to provide feedback back to the data providers about which data was used or not and why. But, due to privacy laws, it is only at the block level, not the address level. For that valuable data to be shared with states, counties or local governments, laws would need to be changed.


If you want to help your own jurisdiction and help Census by sharing data, Census requests/suggests building address datasets with:

  • Address Type Indicators (residential, commercial, utility)
  • within structure identifiers for condos, multiple unit buildings, etc.

Help the FCC Build a Map of Mobile Broadband Speed


Plea: Michael Byrne of the Federal Communications Commission requested that attendees please download the FCC mobile broadband speed test (Android, iOS) to help build a meaningful dataset. Right now there are 40k users in the U.S. The goal is 100K. The Android app takes random scheduled speed tests: three per day - two during peak, one off peak. This is important because what FCC found with the wired broadband tests was that people only ran the test when things seemed “slow,” perhaps skewing the results. The iOS version can’t do scheduled tests, so it will produce a very different dataset. The iOS version was literally announced while I was at the meeting.


The cool thing, suggested Byrne, is what we might be able to do with these data one they are collected: maybe hexagons of different sizes, maybe speed tests by provider, maybe cell tower ID map used in tests... We might, and this got us thinking, be able to build a sort of real time wireless weather map, to show where things were calm and fast and where there were turbulence and things were slower.


But of course, we can only have such maps if citizens download and install the apps!


Everybody Loves NAIP 


Kent Williams, from the Farm Service Agency, provided a now and next update on the National Aerial Imagery Program, NAIP.


Ideally, the folks at NAIP want annual coverage of agricultural states, but in fact, due to budgeting, it’s not that often: more like every other year or every third. And, the goal is always to capture during growing season. They hit that goal 75-97% of the time. Data turnaround is required within 45 days of the end of the season, but of course, everyone wants the data sooner. A three state pilot, which provided less processing and a bit less accuracy, turned around imagery in just five days. That shows much promise!


There’s a pilot program in Idaho at .5M but for now everything is 1 meter or better. And, it can be better if geographies choose to “buy up.”


And, as with the Census, there are data sharing challenges. While states and others would love access to Common Land Unit boundaries, those, per the Farm Bill can not be shared.


Elevation: 3DEP


David L. Saghy of USGS described how the USGS 3D Elevation Program, 3DEP, is moving along. It was once known as Elevation for the Nation. The data is mostly photogrammetric but moving to LiDAR, meaning a move from 10M to 2M data.


The current calendar, should all go well, starts operation in January 2015, with a complete dataset by 2023. Many organizations have endorsed the program (MAPPS, NSGIC, NGAC) and MAPPS has confirmed the private sector has the resources to do the work via a “capabilities statement”


Most Effective Presentations


One of the best things about NSGIC is that the presentations are short and if the speaker runs long, the buzzer goes off. That helps speakers trim down messages but it does not prevent the use of too many slides, slides with too many words, and slides with graphics that attendees can not read. It also does not prevent the most important ideas in a presentation from getting lost in the weeds.


How do you get the most bang for your buck in these short presentations? One way, successfully used at least once at this meeting, is to make the first thing you say the most important thing you say. When a speaker is introduced most people in the audience give him or her some percentage of their attention. Only later do they decide to “tune out.” So, if you start with that most important thing, everyone should hear it and then if they tune out, so be it.


If that first big idea is intriguing, they are likely to hang on to see if what follows will also be intriguing. In short, I guarantee everyone in the room heard Michael Byrne ask that we and our friends download and run the mobile broadband speed test on our phones. 


On the other hand, another presenter had a request of the attendees. That request was made at the very end of the presentation. By then, dare I say, most everyone was tuned out. When the request was made, attendees probably didn’t have the background needed to even consider responding.


Glossary for NSGIC 2014


ELMO - Enough, let’s move on! A call during discussions that we’d beat the topic to death and it was time to move to the next topic. Mostly it was used in jest, but it was empowering to have it offered as a valid contribution.


No wrong door policy - I think the speaker from the Department of Homeland Security used the term. I had to look it up, but it means what I has expected: that the right data gets to the right people.


Speaking dolphin - A poetic description of how the language and understanding we have of geospatial technology may not be well understood by those outside of our community. Here’s a great example, courtesy of DHS: colleagues do not understand “geospatial,” so the geospatial advocates have begun using the term “where.”

Published Thursday, February 27th, 2014

Written by Adena Schutzberg

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