The handy technology used to create the colorful maps that lead you to view the tigers at the zoo or let you know how much snow you will receive during the next winter storm, also serves as a critical aspect in performing jobs and communicating more effectively with stakeholders.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District applies this same cutting-edge technology for a variety of initiatives, such as mapping stormwater infrastructure and runoff into the Chesapeake Bay, delineating floodplains and wetlands, and displaying the projects that fall within its various mission-area boundaries. This technology is better known as Geographic Information Systems (GIS), which are computer systems that manage, model, analyze and display geographic information and data through live web maps, and more.
“With GIS, you can manipulate databases containing geographic information and organize the data in a way that users can easily access and employ,” said Jared Scott, Corps, Baltimore District, GIS program manager.
GIS is highly beneficial, both internally and externally – for our stakeholders and the public.
For the GIS professional, the standard software used is ArcMap, which is part of the ArcGIS software package.
Scott has been hard at work building and developing content for the Baltimore District Geospatial Portal that uses ArcGIS technology to display and share GIS content, internally. This emerging technology allows non-GIS professionals at the district to easily view and even manipulate geospatial data online. For instance, the Emergency Management Map features layers that include flood risk reduction projects (both federally and locally operated), key stream gauges and sandbag locations. The Flood Risk Management (FRM) Overview Map shows projects by national flood hazard layer, as well as by Congressional district. These FRM projects may also be sorted by ongoing and recent studies, request for assistance, known flood risk, and Hazard Mitigation Grant Program applicants. There is even a map that estimates employee drive times to the district headquarters and other sites!
The district’s GIS Data Store organizes and stores many major base map layers such as roads, potential flooding, topography and aerial imagery.
“This high-quality data can be used to create contour lines for a visual depiction of change in elevation at a specific location,” said Scott. “It can also be used within software programs to model water flow through a river.”
GIS is more than a map. It is a pivotal internal tool that helps depict important information and aids in critical decision making. It can also potentially save lives.
Externally, there are several GIS tools available to the general public. Examples can be found within CorpsMap at http://bit.ly/HQCorpsMap, such as the National Levee Database (NLD) and the National Inventory of Dams. Each of these tools allows the public to view and search GIS datasets that are managed nationally by the Corps.
The NLD will prove to be a critical tool later in 2015, as the district works with local sponsors to communicate to the public on the risks associated with the levees in their communities upon completion of the Levee Safety Action Classification. Results will help prioritize limited resources and urgency for action to drive better flood risk management decisions.
The NLD provides information about the location and condition of levees and floodwalls for the district’s 92 levee systems. This information is displayed in an easy-to-use map interface, as well as reports, inspection ratings and summaries, and other records. Levee data can be viewed in combination with other GIS data, including real-time data from sources such as stream gauges and weather radar. NLD allows the public to know their risk and insure their risk.
The Baltimore District is home to the National Hurricane Program Office, which centrally manages all Corps technical support as part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) National Hurricane Program. Within this program, the Corps and FEMA work with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to conduct hurricane evacuation studies with the ultimate goal of helping locals understand their evacuation timeline.
Scott and his team have created several products for the National Hurricane Program. One GIS product maps the potential extent of inundation during different categories of hurricanes. Scott created a model that compares the outputs from the Sea, Lake, and Overland Surges from Hurricanes (SLOSH) storm-surge model with topography along the coast to create a detailed hurricane inundation map. This model has even gained national recognition. National Geographic Magazine used this model to create a graphic that shows what may happen to New York in 2100 if a Sandy-like storm surge with a high tide and sea level rise of five feet hit the metropolis. The graphic ran in their September 2013 issue, which can be found at http://bit.ly/NatGeoSLOSHSandy. For more information of SLOSH, visit http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/surge/slosh.php.
The district’s GIS team has also been heavily involved in the GIS component of the North Atlantic Coast Comprehensive Study (NACCS). Building upon lessons learned during Hurricane Sandy, NACCS intent is to help local communities better understand changing flood risks associated with climate change and to provide tools to help those communities better prepare for future flood risks. The GIS team developed several products including a geodatabase that contains vector GIS information from various geospatial analyses. All NACCS Geospatial and Modeling products can be viewed in their own section on the NACCS website: http://www.nad.usace.army.mil/compstudy.
“Being able to illustrate a complex concept with a single image – whether it’s a PDF or web map - is always satisfying,” said Scott. “It’s surprising how much information a single image can convey.”
Technology is always changing and advancing, and like any other field – GIS professionals need to be on top of their game.
“GIS is constantly evolving and changing,” said Scott. “Skills that may have been learned five to ten years ago may soon be obsolete.”
This dynamic nature also has brought positive advancements to the field. Some colleges now offer a specialization in GIS. For example, Penn State offers a Master of Geographic Information Systems. In addition, since 2004, professionals have the ability to receive the Geographic Information Systems Professional, or GISP certification.
The GIS analyst position landed in the 100 best careers list in 2010, according to Money Magazine. The Department of Labor estimates that nearly 150,000 additional GIS professionals will be needed by 2018 to meet increasing demands.
Late in spring 2014, the White House announced a deal to provide free GIS software to every K-12 school in the U.S., potentially increasing students’ interest in STEM programs and careers.
Baltimore District GIS experts are integrated within the district’s major divisions such as Planning, Real Estate, Operations and Engineering. Scott regularly holds meetings with the GIS leads from these divisions to determine the GIS tools needed for them to carry out their mission successfully.
The primary software developer, ESRI, has their site located at http://www.esri.com/, to learn more about the tools and technologies behind this unique and emergent field.