The Kentucky Department of Public Health (DPH) within the Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS) was recently selected to receive a Special Achievement in GIS award at Environmental Systems Research Institute's (ESRI) 27th Annual User Conference in San Diego, California later in June. This award is given to selected ESRI user sites around the world in recognition of outstanding work in the geographic information system (GIS) field. DPH was selected to receive this honor from over 100,000 GIS sites worldwide.

In recent years, DPH's GIS initiatives were led by Kenny Ratliff, a graduate of Morehead State University with a B.A. in Geography and Geology. Ratliff was recently named director of the Commonwealth Office of Technology's (COT) Division of Geographic Information (DGI), the organization responsible for coordinating the commonwealth's enterprise GIS efforts.

"One of my goals in coming to COT/DGI is to enhance the application of GIS by infusing it into normal work processes," states Ratliff. "When people are using the analytical, visualization, and informational power of the technology, without having to be geographic experts, then we have created an accomplishment." He feels the COT enterprise GIS forum provides an excellent opportunity to continue ideas developed in DPH.

Within Kentucky's DPH, GIS technology is used to support many activities that are vitally important to the health and wellbeing of not only Kentucky's citizens but residents of other states as well. DPH's most notable recent successes with GIS involve using its technology to assist in remediation efforts related to lead poisoning in Kentucky children and assisting in disaster relief efforts for Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Until recently, lead poisoning in children was dealt with in a mostly reactive manner after elevated lead levels were discovered in the blood of affected children. After much research, trial and error, and GIS spatial data analysis, a number of environmental factors were discovered that enabled researchers to identify homes with potentially high exposure to lead. This activity employed many spatial data layers constructed and maintained by various authorities, including parcels, census geography (e.g. block groups), aerial photography and other locally available information. These efforts have resulted in lead remediation work that makes Kentucky citizens and children significantly healthier and safer. 

Disaster recovery using GIS and global positioning satellite (GPS) technology is also playing a prominent role in public health, particularly after recent storm events on the Gulf coast. When Hurricane Katrina roared across the Gulf of Mexico making landfall near the borders of Mississippi and Louisiana on Aug. 29, 2005, a call for volunteers went out. By Sept. 12, 2005, a Kentucky contingent of more than 1,200 persons representing environmental, medical, nursing, pharmaceutical and epidemiology components of public health responded. On Sept. 14, an environmental health strike team of nine members was deployed for a two-week mission. This effort, including the collection and analysis of GIS and GPS spatial information in very hostile conditions, helped to get critical services re-established and provided important groundwork for infrastructure repair.

In addition to these high-profile efforts, DPH also uses GIS technology to assist with critical activities such as Avian Bird-flu pandemic planning, the Strategic National Stockpile program and radiation program field work. The recently expanded Newborn Screening Program also makes use of GIS mapping for displaying periodic reports, and efforts are currently underway to produce a public health Internet mapping site that will allow viewers to visualize health trends.

DPH's numerous GIS accomplishments were made possible by several talented individuals including Ratliff, whose role has now shifted to state-level GIS initiatives with his new job in COT. Neal Rosenblatt, who works for CHFS as an Epidemiologist and GIS team lead, and Ned Kalapasev, who works for the Northern Kentucky Health Department as a DBA and GIS manager, joined Ratliff on the lead poisoning initiative. Individuals involved with other DPH GIS projects include Jeff Brock, Sandy Fawbush, Tracey Jewell, David Jones, Brian Parsley, Sara Robeson and Phil Rosell of DPH.

With its many GIS accomplishments and strong GIS support team, it's easy to see why DPH is receiving national recognition and winning awards.