Tuesday, January 31, 2012

SIM-style Disaster Modeling

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) holds planning and preparing for catastrophic disasters as a top priority. The agency has recently created the Regional Catastrophic Preparedness Grant Program (RCPGP) to support the development of new computer modeling technology; specifically, they fund programs geared towards improving disaster management in the area surrounding Washington, D.C.

Azimuth Incorporated and Mid-Atlantic Technology, Research, and Innovation Center (MATRIC) have received grants from FEMA to create a simulation that models "what-if" scenarios. The result, Modeling & Simulation (M&S) Capability for Resource Consumption and Consequence Management, combines GIS with aspects of gaming, similar to programs like SIMS. Users have control over certain perameters, like total number of evacuees, percentage of evacuees seeking shelter, average fuel economy per vehicle, and hospital bed availability, and by defining these parameters can construct response scenarios. The M&S program then runs this scenario and shows the consequences of that particular response plan.

Emergency planners can model an infinite number of scenarios using more than 30 parameters chosen by experts - or they can add their own to meet new requirements. As in SimCity, players start with a finite quantity of resources and must allocate them wisely. Users can compare multiple simulations to see which response plan works best in a particular scenario; the program can produce reports for a specific resource (like hospital beds); temporal functionality is another feature, allowing users to pause, play, fast-forward, and rewind. The system allows a high level of interactivity and experimentation with alternative plans: "scenario options are limited only by the user's imagination".

The M&S program has been used to model potential consequences of an evacuation if the Bluestone Dam in Hinton, West Virginia were to fail. Emergency planners used a barrier polygon tool to simulate inaccessible areas as well as a flood inundation map provided by the US Army Corps of Engineers and the WV National Guard to identify shelters and hospital resources that would be unavailable during the emergency.

The program is continually being developed to provide new options and new tools. The underlying technology of the program can also be applied to model disease spread and animal migration. The usefulness of this program is unlimited; emergency planners can prepare like never before. They use the computer simulation in a trial-and-error process to learn and overcome flaws; in real time, they will be prepared with the best plan for the particular scenario.

GIS: A Useful and Transformative Tool in Cancer Research

The advancement of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in the past few decades have allowed it to become a powerful tool in cancer research. The ability to connect data to location and pinpoint it on a map has proven to be useful in the incidence of cancer in populations, pushing researchers to focus on sociodemographic rather than only biomedical factors in treatment, prevention, and resource allocation programs.

Specifically, GIS can be used to study three dimensions of epidemiology: person, place and time. The person dimension is the focus of sociodemographic data, including such factors as age, sex, and race. Undoubtedly, the most innovative application of GIS is to the dimension of place, as it allows researchers to study large or small geographic areas in a variety of lenses. Through the use of GIS, the dimension of time, including such factors as the date of diagnosis, death or recurrence of cancer, can be connected with these other dimensions.

These systems offer unique ways of handling data. Some GIS functions include the abilities to integrate data from several sources, measure the degree to which people are exposed to carcinogens such as pesticides, and even smooth over any irregularities in the data that may be over-emphasized. Most notably, GIS creates the opportunity to represent these data visually, on many kinds of maps and using many types of features. For instance, researchers may represent cancer cases on a map with dots, then add polygons to represent areas with potential hazards. This broad representation then allows researchers to study risk factors on an individual level with more traditional methods, such as cohorts.

Another important GIS tools for cancer research include spatial analysis. The primary application of spatial analysis is to test for clusters of cancer cases, which prompts researchers to search for possible risk factors in that geographic area. However, spatial analysis is increasingly being used for periodic monitoring of known cancer clusters as a part of surveillance programs instead of programs that react to cluster alarms after they occur.

Finally, GIS can also be used for prediction and estimation in the use of mathematical models. Using spatial interpolation, researchers can estimate the level of carcinogen exposure in certain locations.

Of course, there are limits to the use of GIS. Because it involves a collection of data from several sources, researchers must be careful in creating statistics and interpreting data. This is especially true in rural areas, where inferences about patterns in a large population may not be applicable to a small, sparse number of people.

Despite these limitations, the functions of GIS in data management, visualization, spatial analysis, and modeling have clearly become useful devices for cancer research. The use of GIS has even become transformative, prompting stronger emphasis on sociodemographic factors and environmental exposure.

Nsajafabadi, A.T., and M. Pourhassan. “Integrating the geographic information system into cancer research.” Indian Journal of Cancer 48, no. 1: 105-109. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Use of GIS in Planning

When the spatial technology of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) began to be introduced to planning agencies in the 1980s, most practitioners approached it as an impediment, rather than as a helpful and insightful tool. Even with planning backgrounds, GIS specialists were often defined as technical support staff and little else.

A study lead by Z. Aslıgül Göçmen and Stephen J. Ventura in the public planning agencies of Wisconsin has proven insightful as to why so many barriers to GIS implementation exist, and what may be done to improve usage and effectiveness of GIS in the planning workplace. Early researchers saw barriers as falling under one of the three realms of technological limitations, organizational factors or institutional issues.

In addition, the role of planning support systems (PSS) which are tools that aid planning processes and functions, and often are GIS-based. PSS capabilities consist of projections that would take place under given scenarios, and are often relevant for multiple stages in planning. Notably, PSS users need not have sophisticated technical capabilities to accomplish what they do.

In 1999, the state of Wisconsin passed the Wisconsin Comprehensive Planning Law, which mandated that municipalities and counties (those engaging in official mapping, subdivision regulation or zoning) prepare comprehensive plans by 2010, proved to be the most comprehensive of planning efforts in the state’s history. This makes Wisconsin, which has seen its implementation level rise from 30% before the law to 38% with an additional 34% preparing plans in 2008.

The study surveyed barriers to GIS use in planning, starting with a 2007 web survey of Wisconson planning practitioners. 1,192 individuals from 256 public agencies were invited, and the 265 responding participants (48% response rate) were given open-ended survey questions to identify the top three barriers to use in their own departments’ planning efforts. They gave responses for GIS as well as PSS. Supplemental follow-up interviews with 20 practitioners also helped solidify results and give reasoning behind them. Questions ranged from size of department to accuracy of data, and results showed a number of factors such as training and funding as impediments to GIS use (see Figure 1 below).

Results can also be seen in response to impediments to PSS use (Figure 2 below).

The study recommended several remedial steps that would help implement GIS into the planning environment effectively. Currently, only about 10% of planning departments in the U.S. have requirements related to GIS.

Recommendations included first, workshops and classes to highlight the potential uses of GIS for various analytical, public participation and visualization purposes. Another recommendations included Internet-based training, accessibility of workshops, the opportunity to discuss the future of GIS in workshops (most classes do not go beyond basic technical functions), and to promote networking within the GIS community.

A concerned effort remains, persistently wanting to implement GIS functionality in the realm of local government. The question remains as to the future uses of GIS, but perhaps understanding the technology itself can lead to a greater understanding of where GIS will be in the coming years.

Source: Gocmen, Z. J. (2010). Barriers to GIS Use in Planning. Journal Of The American Planning Association, 76(2), 172.

Link: http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=f5h&AN=48795043&site=ehost-live&scope=site

After Chernobyl: GIS and Top-Soil Contamination

In the early morning hours of 26 April, 1986, an explosion rocked the Vladimir Lenin Nuclear Power Station after reactor four suffered a catastrophic meltdown which immediately sent plumes of Caesium-137 and Strontium-90 into the air. The resultant spike in radioactivity in the border regions of the former Soviet Union, Belorussian SSR, and Ukrainian SSR forced many people to evacuate, and those that did not would suffer the consequences for years to come. 

As stated in the article: “The overall aim of the [GIS system] is to identify vulnerable areas in terms of enhanced radionuclide transfer into food chains and/or the presence of ‘critical population groups’ that suffer enhanced internal and/or external exposure to radionuclides.”

Thus, as part of the RESTORE project (Restoration of Radioactively Contaminated Ecosystems), a user-friendly GIS system was created to effectively map out the areas most severely contaminated by the incident, as well as provide officials with a brief timeline of when some agricultural areas could be brought back into food production.

This system would allow for policy makers to know which food sources were the largest contributors to increased radiocaesium levels in the food production industry, and also provide them with information that has allowed them to implement counter-measures to lower the chances of contaminated food making it into the open markets.

 Work(s) Cited:
  •  Van Der Perk, M., J. R. Burema, P. A. Burrough, A. G. Gillett, and M. B. Van Der Meer. "A GIS-based Environmental Decision Support System to Assess the Transfer of Long-lived Radiocaesium through Food Chains in Areas Contaminated by the Chernobyl Accident." International Journal of Geographical Information Science 15.1 (2001): 43-64. Print.

The Uganda Aids Commission (UAC) implement GIS into their research to track HIV/AIDS

The Uganda Aids Commission (UAC) decided to implement GIS into their research to track current services and interventions on HIV/AIDS, and to gather more data on what services are being provided (geographically), who is being provided for (beneficiaries), and what organization is providing for those people in that specific location. After conducting a survey on the different GIS systems currently being used in Uganda, the commission chose to use ArcView 9, a group of six UAC staff members were then trained for 2 weeks on how to use ArcView 9 before going into the field to collect data at the subdistrict level. 

In June/July of 2004 the UAC began phase 1 of monitoring HIV/AIDS interactions using GIS. In phase 1 the commission focused on setting map indicators based on the themes: prevention, mitigation, care and social support. In phase 2 data was collected from stakeholders and partners of UAC. They altered this data into different thematic maps indicating the geographic location of the stakeholders, information on the type of intervention the stakeholders provided, whether the stakeholder was a public or private non-profit provider, and lastly the number of beneficiaries each stakeholder reached. Lastly in phase 3 (October-December 2004), the UAC members collected information the subdistrict (subcounty) level, focusing heavily on the location and activities of local organization interactions with beneficiaries. Ultimately the UAC was left with a map highlighting the distribution of HIV/AIDS services and interventions present in Uganda. GIS has allowed the UAC to better analyze the services being provided in Uganda to help fight/prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Isabella Vargas

GIS made the mobile mapping we know today

      This article was written in the winter of 2000 before the time of smart phones.  It was ArcGIS that laid the base for the development of location-based services that we know today.  Back when cell phone technology was still evolving, the companies making the phones realized the possibilities of location based services and it was GIS mapping that made it possible.  

ArcIMS-powered TrafficStation web page as described below left

According to the article Arc mapping programs were used for the base mapping on all locations. 
ArcIMS—This powerful GIS technology, designed specifically for the Web, provides a diverse set of mapping, location analysis, and routing capabilities for location service developers. 

PortaTrack web page as described below

ArcSDE—ArcSDE and API technology provide an open strategy for query, manipulation, and analysis of data stored or managed in various DBMSs. Also, ArcSDE is a key component to enterprise solutions such as customer relationship management (CRM), which enables large mobile telephone operators such as Telecom Italia Mobile S.pA, and France Telecom Mobiles to leverage the power of GIS in their customer care operations.
RouteMAP IMS—RouteMAP IMS is an extension to ArcIMS and is dedicated to providing routing and directions to mobile and stationary clients. As Location Services moves beyond simple applications into field productivity applications, RouteMAP IMS provides both simple (point-to-point) as well as sophisticated (multipoint/traveling salesman) routing.
ArcPad—ArcPad is a new mobile GIS that is designed to operate on high-performance CE-based devices. This product operates both stand-alone (GIS data is loaded on a mobile device) as well as in a "wireless" communication mode as a client to ArcIMS. ArcPad gets workers out of the office and into the field where they can use geographic (locational) information directly. Specifically, ArcPad, when integrated with GPS, enables mobile field crews to communicate their locations in real time and to access large databases for information about assets in the field. 

a palm pilot displaying a vehicle location on a street map.

     With mobile web still in its infancy stages, “wireless carriers were committing enormous resources to building the communications infrastructure to make wireless services reliable and widely accessible.  Location-based services were consistently cited by the carriers as one of the top applications that will enable them to recoup these investments.”  Many of the companies were predicting a massive jump in mobile users over the next few years. “Think ahead two years to the end of 2002. By then it is estimated that 50 percent of the total workforce will be mobile, and total wireless Internet users will surpass wired users.” Today we all have smart phones and everyone of us has used a map program to find something. A store or ATM or friends address.  It was ArcGIS mapping that made smart phone mapping of today possible. 

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Using GIS to evaluate water access and quality

Recent interest in the health hazards of unsafe drinking water has led researchers to the study of water supply which involves a look at how water goes from “catchment to the consumer”. Water Safety Plans (WSP) which are risk assessment and risk management reports are developed prior to the development of a water plant. Researchers are becoming more interested in how spatial analysis using GIS can be incorporated into WSP analysis.

Using a water safety plan for a groundwater supplier in North Rhine-Westphalia in Germany, researchers used GIS to evaluate how land-use patterns and watershed relationships affect the quality of the water supply. First, spatial analysis is used to map areas of vulnerability in the population such as schools or hospitals. This analysis is called a kernel density estimation and is used to understand which populations are most vulnerable to water shortages and water pollution (figure 1). The second part of the analysis is to map areas of high risk for groundwater contamination based on the land-use pattern. For example, agricultural areas present a higher risk for contamination of groundwater from pesticides than undeveloped land. Researchers used landsat images to derive these land-use patterns and the compiled map allows for a visual of how and where land-use patterns and water contamination intersect.

To understand how watershed processes affects the area, chlorine concentrations (mg/l) were calculated and mapped spatially to view how the river interacts with the aquifer. Levels high in chlorine indicate regions where the low aquifer water levels allow the river to infiltrate the aquifer. This calculation allows researchers to understand the dynamics of aquifer recharge and to see which sites of the aquifer are more vulnerable to the river’s dynamics. Lastly, a similar analysis can be conducted using nitrogen calculations to map the regions where agricultural production impacts the greatest parts of the aquifer. Overall, researchers estimated areas of high risk to lack of water access and contamination, giving an overview of the challenges for providing access to clean and quality water.

Wienand, I., U. Nolting, and T. Kistemann. (2009). Using Geographical Information Systems (GIS) as an instrument of water resource management: a case study from a GIS-based Water Safety Plan in Germany. Water Science & Technology (60.7) 1691- 1699.

Helping Elephants Across the African Continent with GIS

Helping Elephants Across the African Continent with GIS


                African elephants are the world’s largest land mammals, but are constantly battling for survival against poachers. With human population increasing in Africa, humans are expanding into areas dominated by elephants and other species causing an overlap and direct contact with each other forcing elephants to transfer to other areas.
Areas where African Elephants and Humans Overlap
                One researcher used GIS to create a map to reflect on the areas of Africa that humans and elephants come into contact with one another. Through this map they discovered areas that would be most suitable for relocation, giving elephants up to 500 square miles of distance between human developments. They used ArcView, which allowed them to use the geostatistical and spatial analytical tools to form the spatial modeling and geoprocessing they needed to get the results that are shown in the map to the right.
Areas with permanent water sources
                                                                            The next step was to develop a map to find areas that would be best for the elephants survival by finding areas that are not only away from human populations, but have the necessities like a reliable water source. Through both datasets represented by individual maps they were finally able to have a reliable conclusion on where to put the herds of elephants that are away from human habitations and the suitability of a physical environment.


          With the information finally gathered and put into maps using GIS, researchers could now express their concerns for the African Elephants and find people welling to manage projects in hopes of relocating the elephants into reduced conflict zones, ultimately providing the elephants a better life.
Jeff Romine