February 5, 2008 By Chad Vander Veen
Utah's state Web site is home to a huge library of maps created with both traditional GIS applications and tools from Google. In fact, Utah Deputy CIO Dave Fletcher said the state keeps all of its geographic information databases online, giving Utah citizens an impressive resource at their fingertips. One new Web site, mapserv.utah.gov, hosts interactive maps on the ArcGIS server.
"We're also starting to create Web services that can be used within other peoples' applications to provide geo-coded results," Fletcher said. "We've created some things, our geo-sites using Google Earth, where it's sort of targeted at the student population, where they can basically do virtual flyovers over a lot of our geologic sites throughout the state."
Utah's Mapserv site is a great place to start for anyone seeking examples of how traditional GIS tools and newer "GIS-lite" applications can be used to produce compelling, useful maps. Mapserv hosts a variety of maps, including sex offender addresses, sites designated for historic preservation - even fueling locations for government fleet vehicles.
According to Fletcher, the state is doing everything it can to improve the public's access to GIS and other related data because the state believes the data improves people's experience with government and also strengthens government operations. Furthermore, Fletcher said new manifestations of location data - such as Google Earth and WikiMapia - don't diminish the traditional GIS market, but instead foster more interest in it.
"Some of our GIS purists don't necessarily like it, but that's the way of the future. People want to have access to those kind of tools whereas, before, it was more exclusive."
Utah isn't the only state making the most of Google Earth. In late November 2007, Alabama Gov. Bob Riley announced the launch of Virtual Alabama, a project initiated by the Alabama Department of Homeland Security in partnership with Google Earth. The first-of-its-kind project, which was two years in the making, incorporates imagery from all of Alabama's 67 counties, and allows local officials to securely share access to statewide geographic data using Google Earth.
Virtual Alabama means mission-critical GIS data is no longer accessible only by GIS experts. Instead, GIS data can be quickly and easily obtained by first responders, helping them do everything from planning an escape from a burning building to evacuating areas affected by a hazardous chemical spill.
According to state Homeland Security Director Jim Walker, people issues - not technology challenges - were the biggest hurdles to creating Virtual Alabama. The state had to find up-to-date imagery of each Alabama county, a process that took more than a year to accomplish, Walker said. Along the way, political infighting and proprietary issues bogged down the process. The key, Walker said, was explaining how Virtual Alabama would improve public safety and help protect the lives of first responders.
"I went to the sheriffs and said, 'Look, if you give me this imagery, we've learned that we can start layering and tailoring information on top of your imagery that can allow you to do a lot of things. For example, we can show gas lines, power lines, fire hydrants, stop signs, stop lights, the location of every registered sex offender in your county. If you click on a button, this is where a sex offender lives. [If] you draw a 1,000-foot circle around his house, and pull up all the schools, bus stops, day-care centers, etc., you know immediately
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