but it lasted only one year and was defunded.

"That's what we're hoping to do with this new plan, get us back on our feet," Butgereit said. "I believe that when push came to shove, we operated very well when Florida most needed it -- during our active hurricane seasons in 2004 and 2005. With this coordination in place, we would have done an even better job responding to those needs," said Butgereit, who became a de facto champion of statewide coordination through his role as Florida's delegate to the National States Geographic Information Council (NSGIC).

Florida ranks 49th among states for GIS coordination, as defined by the NSGIC's benchmarks. Of nine criteria, Florida has implemented only two: The federal government works through the statewide coordination authority, and responsibilities for developing the NSDI and the state clearing-house are assigned. In other categories, Florida lacks the necessary criteria, including a political "champion," a statewide coordination office linked to the state CIO, a full-time paid coordinator position and sustainable funding sources to meet program needs.

"Strategically I think we need to promote the use of GIS information and analysis to improve decision-making," Butgereit said. "Here at the state emergency operations center, we see these data and analyses through decision-making and affecting our citizens' health, safety and welfare. I think the same data and analysis, can be used to support our environment and economy."

Local Coordination Thrives

Though Florida trails other states in coordination metrics, the state certainly has a strong foundation of GIS expertise in its work force: The GIS Certification Institute has certified more GIS professionals in Florida than any other state.

Furthermore, the new strategic plan concluded that regional, volunteer-driven user communities, such as Central Florida GIS, the Seven Hills Regional User Group and county-level organizations enhance the state's GIS capabilities by organizing workshops and hosting portals.

"Unfortunately it's like a lot of the [U.S. presidential primary election] voting that goes on in Florida -- we're not a counted group because we weren't included," Hill explained. "If the survey was looked at based on regional groups, the state is actually doing quite a bit."

Several collaborative GIS projects are in progress in Florida. The FDEM is revamping its regional evacuation plans using precise elevation data created using lidar. According to the strategic plan, several agencies, including the Florida Department of Transportation, the Department of Revenue and regional water districts, are providing aerial photography for the project. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is providing the state with funding through "cooperative assistance awards."

The Florida Department of Revenue recently posted parcel data online, Butgereit said, and other projects for roads, hydrography and orthoimagery are under way.

But there's the looming problem of funding. The Florida Legislature is expected to cut the state's budget in fiscal 2009. The cost of these GIS improvements is unclear until a business plan is finished. If the strategic plan isn't funded, the strategic plan's steering committee would need to rely heavily on funding from the USGS to get the job done. According to Alexis Thomas, project director for the University of Florida's Geo-Facilities Planning and Information Research Center, securing funds from the federal government may be just as difficult.

"I definitely hope it carries through. This is a bad budget year for not only the state, but the feds as well," he said. "I'm cautiously optimistic."

For more information about Florida's statewide GIS coordination and to download the strategic plan, go to the Web site.

Matt Williams  |  Associate Editor