governments and three federal agencies are tied into the West Nile Virus system.

In April 2002, there were 400,000 hits on the system's secure Web site, demonstrating the value of the mapped data in the operation of government. The Web site also has a public face where current information is updated and maps are made available.

The GIS maps show where clusters of disease-carrying mosquitoes or birds were found. Furthermore, the site explains what eradication methods are used and offers advice on how to prevent mosquito-breeding environments from developing.

With the cross-agency GIS foundation in place and the West Nile system proving its value, Conrad was already considering other applications for the program when the unexpected happened.

"We were starting small but had big dreams for what it could do," he said. "On 9-11, I watched the towers come down and said 'We have something that can help.' It was one of those chills-type moments."

Like the virus-tracking system, the PAIRS program requires that agencies share information, adopt standards and remove historical barriers.

"Communication and cooperation are the key," Conrad said. "It's getting people to share the data and trust the system. If you keep the door open, sooner or later people will come through."

He said the demonstrated successes of the West Nile system are being used to encourage participation in PAIRS.

For example, the West Nile system simplified the task of entering data about virus samples by assigning a bar code to each sample. Consequently, laboratory scientists could immediately identify specimens by using a bar code reader and matching the specimens to collection sites.

Conrad said bar-coding reduced the workload from about eight hours to two hours, an efficiency gain that has cross-agency appeal.

With PAIRS, information about suspected bio-terrorist incidents can be entered from remote sites and statewide notifications sent to agencies. Authorized officials can view maps and data generated by the system, look for patterns and access risks. All information is viewed in real time, and material from other relevant databases, such as JNET, also will be integrated on the system's internal Web site.

Further examination of an incident will be handled through a secure "conference center" site where users with proper clearance can log on and view proprietary data, which can be removed at the close of the call.

A public version of the PAIRS Web site will offer automatic updates of information, send out e-mail alerts and provide a consistent message from all the participating agencies. It also will serve as a central point for media information.

"Across the agencies, at different levels, the opportunity that I see is that most GIS applications are added on," Conrad said. "We've taken it and put it at the beginning so that it is an integral of the process. The map drives the rest of the report. We've really reversed the process."

PAIRS has been so effective that the Office of Homeland Security invited Conrad to demonstrate the system. Although he was anxious to show PAIRS to homeland security officials, Conrad says that GIS technology is being used in innovative ways throughout the nation.

"I [believe] that everyone has something to contribute," he said. "I don't want to be limited to my own visions. I want to build on what others have done. The goal is not one person succeeding, but the nation succeeding."

Darby Patterson  |  Editor in Chief