Geographic Information Systems (GIS) is a computer system for capturing, storing, analyzing and displaying spatial data. It combines data from different sources and can derive new data sets by applying spatial operations.

When GIS is mentioned, most people only think about mapping. It goes beyond that.

GIS is used in many industries to assist visualization of trends and patterns to better understand relationships between objects and their surroundings and model what if scenarios; making it a very useful tool for decision making.

The following are examples of different industries using GIS in making location based decisions.

Crime

Three things are needed for a crime to occur: a motivated offender, a suitable target and a location. Ability of GIS to store, manage, analyze and display location data makes it a very valuable tool in law enforcement for mapping, visualizing and analyzing patterns and trends associated with criminal activities.

Whenever a crime is reported, details like location, type of crime(burglary, rape, homicide), whether or not there was a victim present, gender, age of the victim are entered into the GIS database. This data is overlaid with other data (e.g land use, income level, population density) in crime mapping for a given area for visualization.

GIS goes beyond pin-mapping crimes. By Analyzing incidents in aggregate with other factors (socio-economic, reports of disorderly conduct), law enforcement agencies can identify hot spots as well as patterns and trends. This helps in resource allocation.

Urban Planning

Urban planning is a process focused on development and design of land use and the built environment. It includes transportation, utility systems, communication networks and other infrastructures passing into and out of urban areas. It has to both fit in with existing infrastructures and also to comply with regulatory demands.

GIS is used in urban planning as both analytical as well as a modeling tool. Its ability to pull together large amounts of data gives planners detailed perspectives on land and infrastructures. It can run a variety of queries and analyses on land data together with topographical, chemical and biological factors of the area and model ‘what if’ scenarios. This process helps in evaluating feasibility of proposed projects.

Environmental Impact Analysis

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a process of examining the anticipated effects a proposed project or development would have on the environment through consultation and preparation of an Environmental Impact Assessment Report (EIAR). It determines approval for development or construction by local authorities.

Set regulations for EIA vary from jurisdiction.

GIS is used for environmental data analysis by visualizing physical features and critical environmental factors such as steepness of slopes and vegetation and their relationships. Overlaying several data layers (vegetation, soil type, geology) can be used to produce map of area of interest and determine its suitability for a given project

This expedites the EIA process.

Disaster Management and Mitigation

Emergency management agencies need to incorporate real-time, location based data and other critical data feeds in order to effectively plan, mitigate and respond to natural disasters. Federal, state and local agencies put in place mitigation plans that include assessing, identifying and mapping areas of high risks.

GIS provides location intelligence and powerful visualization and analytical capabilities to improve planning, collaboration, communication and response time.

These maps are dynamic and are updated as terrain and conditions change. The maps are made accessible to citizens as part of agencies efforts to increase education and awareness of natural disasters.

GIS ability to quickly analyze data for response coordination helps in resource optimization by guiding where it’s needed most. Maps of current and projected damage can be created and shared by leaders, first responders and citizens.

Natural Resources Management

The Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) has been conducting regular inventories of natural resources (water bodies, vegetation, wetlands etc.) for almost 50 years. These inventories are conducted at various scales as the basis for land-based decision making for use and conservation.

GIS, along with other technologies like Remote Sensing provide a platform through which management agencies can monitor and analyze conditions and characteristics of natural resources and their relationship with man-made features.

Through use of spatial and temporal maps, natural resources dynamics like extent of wildlife habitat, forestry/agricultural operations and increase/decrease of water bodies can be monitored.

Wildlife Tracking/Monitoring

Many wildlife species are on the brink of extinction due to habitat loss caused by urban over development, deforestation, poaching and other factors.

GIS and other computer related technologies (remote sensing, radio telemetry and Global Positioning System) play an important role in tracking and monitoring these endangered species in the remote parts of the world to assist conservation efforts.

GPS-enabled collars fitted to animals record and store location data at predetermined intervals. The data may be stored in the devices and downloaded when the devices are recovered or can be directly transmitted to a base using satellite data relay. This data is then plotted on aerial imagery background to show movement of the animals over time.

Banking

Geographic variations in consumer and business behaviours and demands affect performance of banks and other financial institutions.

Many of these institutions use GIS to quickly analyze financial and demographic data to map out key neighbourhoods when targeting potential customers. Gone are the days where decisions to consolidate branches or open new ones were solely based on spreadsheets and figures.

For example an aggregate account holder data can be used to determine areas with high concentrations of existing customers and areas not well served.

Asset Management

One goal all asset managers have is to minimize costs of owning, operating and maintaining assets while improving level of service. Many public works organizations have assets spread over very large geographical areas.

GIS provides spatial representation of organizations assets which enable managers to track their assets as well as all associated work orders.

With spatial visualization it’s possible to optimize routes thus reducing costs associated with travel times. It’s also possible to create heat maps to see areas of high demand in order to effectively adjust service technicians’ work allocations and better serve customers.

Conclusion

Location based decisions play a very important role in improving quality of life. Use of GIS leads to faster and more concise decisions.

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