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N.C., Washington, D.C., Earn ‘A's’ in National GIS Assessment

The new 2023 Geospatial Maturity Assessment report from the National States Geographic Information Council evaluated 46 states and Washington, D.C. It highlights successes and disparities in GIS integration, and emphasizes collaboration.

The National States Geographic Information Council’s (NSGIC) recently released 2023 Geospatial Maturity Assessment (GMA) demonstrates how states are using geospatial coordination, with two particular standouts.

In an in-depth evaluation of 46 states and the District of Columbia, all of which submitted reports to the NSGIC this year, the organization analyzed various aspects of state-led geospatial information systems and awarded only Washington, D.C., and North Carolina an “A” rating. Eleven states earned an “A-” ranking; and more than half those surveyed earned an overall "B” grade, including “B+” or “B-.” More than 10 states fell below a “B” grade in the report, released March 8.

The NSGIC graded states on their work with eight GIS framework layers identified by the Federal Geographic Data Committee, which included parcel, address, hydrography, elevation, imagery, transportation, geodetic control and governmental unit mapping. States got survey points through using data in categories including addresses, parcels, coordination, elevation, governmental units, transportation — and, for the first time ever, in next-generation 911. According to the GMA, 32 states now integrate GIS into their 911 planning, up from 26 in 2021 — and state usage of address data and elevation data is on the rise.

“It’s really hard to assess the utilization of data,” Karen Rogers, geospatial program manager at the Bureau of Land Management, and an expert who worked on the 2023 GMA report, told Government Technology. “But by using the eight framework layers that were established in 1994, we can analyze how the states are supported in their use of GIS — both from a funding and coordination standpoint.”

The effective use of GIS technology heavily impacts citizens and governance. Property taxes based on parcel data, for example, are critical to funding local government. Those data points are also used by insurance companies when looking at where and how much to charge for insurance policies. The data also factors into floodplain management, disaster response and broadband coverage, Rogers said.

Public safety needs this kind of data, too. The number of state programs receiving an “A” grade or better has been rising for several years, from 32 percent in 2019 to 50 percent in 2021 and 57 percent in 2023. The rise, the report said, is largely driven by next-generation 911 programs — which have reshaped the 911 service infrastructure in the U.S. and Canada. Rogers highlighted the link between the significant enhancements in address data across multiple states and the advancement of next-gen 911 utilization.

“One aspect we noticed this year was the improvement in address data and having it be able to serve the private sector through parcel delivery, along with emergency services through next-gen 911. That has really taken off,” Rogers said. According to the GMA report, 32 states now integrate GIS into their 911 planning, up from 26 in 2021.

But address data isn't the only area that shows improvement; states are expanding their use of elevation data as well. Rogers attributed this to collaboration between different levels of government.

“The increase speaks to the partnership between the federal government and the states around the 3D Elevation Program and the nearly $1 billion that the U.S. Geological Survey National Geospatial Program has spent working with states to collect and make high-resolution elevation data available,” she said.

North Carolina, the only state in the country to receive an “A” rating, can attribute much of its success to building a public data framework that hinged on legislative support, Rogers said; and to the types of government collaborations she said are crucial to successfully integrate GIS into operations.

“For decades now, North Carolina state government leaders maintained a strong partnership with local governments to acquire high-resolution imagery data, which engenders trust,” Rogers said. The state has also made huge progress in broadband mapping by using GIS to identify where broadband money is best directed; and how to fill the gaps in broadband availability.

Tim Johnson, North Carolina’s geographic information officer, told GT state investment in GIS technology took off in the late 1980s, with the 1991 creation of what is now known as the Geographic Information Coordinating Council (GICC) through executive order — and later via legislated authority. The group is composed of 35 representatives of North Carolina cities, counties, state agencies, the private sector, nonprofits and the university system.

Under GICC leadership, he said, North Carolina has made significant strides in next-generation 911 implementation; and in developing and refining address points, street center lines, emergency service area boundaries, and broadband mapping.

“We’ve really been able to leverage the work that had been done for the past 10 to 15 years to jump on these GIS mapping tools for the benefit of the citizens in our state,” Johnson said.

Establishing a position to lead GIS efforts and a body of leaders bound by statute — as in North Carolina — is a pivotal way for states to bolster their GIS capabilities, Rogers said.

“The biggest challenge we’ve seen to any state is not having a geographic information officer position,” she said. “And there should be funding, staffing and governance, in statute to ensure that the state maintains those aspects regardless of changes in administration or shifts in priorities, because data doesn’t stop just because a new state leader takes over.”
Ashley Silver is a staff writer for Government Technology. She holds an undergraduate degree in journalism from the University of Montevallo and a graduate degree in public relations from Kent State University. Silver is also a published author with a wide range of experience in editing, communications and public relations.