Standard unifies facilities data

A free CD-ROM with a Tri-Service Spatial Data Standard is bringing a semblance of order
out of confusion for military facilities managers.

The Tri-Service CAD/GIS Technology Center in Vicksburg, Miss., developed the spatial
data standard to stop the practice of military bases spending up to $250,000 apiece to
develop their own data models and schema for displaying computer-aided design and
geographic information system data.

That practice has been costly for the government and has created confusion whenever
facilities managers consolidated or moved CAD and GIS data up the chain of command.

"Each schema was different to some degree," said Harold L. Smith, chief of
the technology center.

On military bases, separate offices have even developed their own unique schema for GIS
and CAD data. "When you wanted to do upward reporting of information to the Pentagon,
each bit of data or graphical information depicted on maps was different," Smith

The two-year-old spatial data standard has not changed that situation overnight, he
said. It takes a long time to get rid of legacy systems. Having a standard for
representing spatial information nevertheless helps the people who review and analyze
data, he said.

The tri-service standard describes about 3,000 entities, or graphical features, and
nearly 15,000 attributes for those features. It uses the same schema across the
binary-level formats of four separate GIS and CAD products.

The products--Modular GIS Environment from Intergraph Corp. of Huntsville, Ala.,
ArcInfo from Environmental Systems Research Institute of Redlands, Calif., MicroStation
from Bentley Systems Inc. of Exton, Pa., and AutoCAD from Autodesk Inc. of San Rafael,
Calif.--are the most popular GIS and CAD packages among military users, Smith said.

The standard defines the database schema and data tables so that a database
administrator only has to load the data into the GIS system. "Depending on how big
your schema is, it could take weeks or days to do that," he said.

The technology center is developing a software tool that will automate upgrades to
future releases of the standard. But it's still a manual move from a noncompliant database
to the spatial data standard.

The center has mailed out about 3,000 CD-ROMs with Release 1.7 of the standard. Some
places such as Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., have adopted it basewide. "We get two
or three new requests a week," Smith said.

State and local governments also have an interest in the standard. The commonwealth of
Pennsylvania and the city of Garland, Texas, are working with the center to add entities
such as lot lines and tax parcels.

The center staff draws from field applications to develop the standard, which Smith
described as "an ongoing, difficult process." For simplicity and clarity, they
adhere to the rule of "one feature, one definition," he said.

"We are trying not only to satisfy the military side but also to make this a
national standard," Smith added. The center coordinates its efforts with the Federal
Geographic Data Committee, which is developing logical models to describe geographic
entities, attributes and domains.

The technology center has done an excellent job of developing a standard, said George
Korte, executive marketing manager for Intergraph Federal Systems of Reston, Va. He said
it "gets down to the nuts and bolts of the definition of a GIS database."

The next release, Release 1.8, due in January, will have new entities such as flora,
fauna and military training ranges.

Military and civilian agencies can order CD copies of the standard by calling
601-634-4109. Or they can download or order it from the center's World Wide Web site at


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