Better management through GIS

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley put geospatial information systems to work to help inform their decision-making on endangered species management and municipal governance, respectively.

Speaking yesterday at a meeting of ESRI executives in San Diego, Kempthorne detailed how the use of GIS technology convinced him to list the polar bear on the federal Endangered Species List.

'The decision was based on extensive geospatial information and mapping that showed a long-term threat to the polar bear's sea ice habitat,' he said.

Kempthorne presented slides based on satellite photos of the North Pole that showed the retreat of sea ice during the past 30 years. 'Satellite imagery helped make the case for the listing and helped me explain my decision to the American people,' he said.

'Until recently, our agencies have largely worked in isolation from each other,' Kempthorne said. To improve data sharing, Kempthorne said Interior is working on coordinating the federal government's geospatial activities through the Federal Geographic Data Committee. As part of that effort the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), an Interior agency, will release to the public its 35-year archive of Landsat images over the Internet by the end of the year, Kempthorne said.

Landsat, the satellite-based Earth-imaging program, has provided millions of moderate-resolution images since 1972. The Landsat archive will be available through the USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science Data Center Web site.

O'Malley spoke to ESRI executives about how he spearheaded geospatial technology projects to fight crime, fill potholes and reduce water pollution, first as Baltimore's mayor and now as Maryland's chief executive.

When he was elected mayor of Baltimore in 1999, O'Malley inherited a soaring crime rate, a falling population and decreasing revenues. To revitalize the city, O'Malley enlisted Jack Maple, a former New York City Police deputy policy commissioner, to copy the NYPD's CompStat crime mapping system and apply it to Baltimore. City officials quickly realized that the CompStat GIS technology could be applied to map other city problems such as potholes and vacant houses.

O'Malley and his team started 'geomapping every conceivable service so we could measure outcomes and performance every day, every week, every month,' he said. 'The maps know where our problems are and where our opportunities are, so we deploy our resources to where we can make the greatest progress for all.'

The results of the geospatial mapping initiatives were dramatic. O'Malley offered slides of GIS maps that showed a decrease in homicides over time. The city's homicide rate has declined by the largest amount in the 30 years since tracking began. The GIS played a role in helping Baltimore fill potholes within 48 hours, he said. It also helped the city respond to complaints about vacant buildings within 14 days instead of eight months, he said.

Now as governor, O'Malley works with StateStat, much like Baltimore's CitiStat, except it monitors the performance of state agencies. O'Malley also supported BayStat to monitor the health of the Chesapeake Bay.

'GIS is more than just a nice new technology,' O'Malley said. 'It's a powerful transparent tool for progress provided we are unafraid of setting goals and of measuring performance openly ' of our public institutions and our public efforts.'

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.


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