Getting the Gist of GIS-Geographic Information Systems

Kaye Beach

April 18, 2011

“The real danger is the gradual erosion of individual liberties through automation, integration, and interconnection of many small, separate record-keeping systems, each of which alone may seem innocuous, even benevolent, and wholly justifiable.”    U. S. Privacy Study Commission

GIS- Geographic Information System

“GIS is a computer system for capturing, storing, checking, integrating, manipulating, analyzing and displaying data related to location. What separates GIS from other types of information/databases is that everything is based on location (georeference).” Link

“GIS organizes geographic data so that a person reading a map can select data necessary for a specific project or task. A thematic map has a table of contents that allows the reader to add layers of information to a basemap of real-world locations. For example, a social analyst might use the basemap of Eugene, Oregon, and select datasets from the U.S. Census Bureau to add data layers to a map that shows residents’ education levels, ages, and employment status.” Link

GIS is promoted as a valuable management tool for almost every imaginable aspect of society worldwide.

“Understanding the Earth as a system requires that our scientific information systems be conceptualized in such a way that they are capable of interfacing with one another and ultimately able to function as a single unified system” link

GIS is a powerful integrator of information and technology-

“As we learn to link biometrics to biographic, geospatial, social networks and other forms of data, we can develop patterns of activities for both individuals and organizations, resulting in tactical and strategic situational awareness and intelligence advantage.”   LINK

There is one thing you should keep in mind while reading this article; that information about you is valuable and powerful.

Whoever keeps and controls your information has the power to keep and control you.  Our wealth, reputations and perceived worth is bundled into something we call data and this data is, in reality, what we are assessed on in just about every aspect of our lives. From legal or financial decisions to political and personal opportunities-it is the information, the data about us that usually matters most.

Some definitions:

The word enterprise is used often to describe information systems in both business and government so it’s a good idea to understand what the term means.

Enterprise Information Systems– Enterprise Information Systems provide a technology platform that enables organizations to integrate and coordinate their business processes. They provide a single system that is central to the organization and ensure that information can be shared across all functional levels and management hierarchies. (Emphasis mine)  LINK

Geodata- isanyinformation with a geographic component.

GIS Enables Mass Surveillance

Mass Surveillance is the pervasive surveillance of an entire population, or a substantial fraction thereof.

Mass surveillance enables social control

Social control refers generally to societal and political mechanisms or processes that regulate individual and group behavior, leading to conformity and compliance to the rules of a given society, state, or social group

GIS-What’s it good for?

“Geographic information system (GIS) technology leverages this geographic insight to address social, economic, business, and environmental concerns at local, regional, national, and global scales.”link

This article, The Evolution of Geospatial Technology Calls for Changes in Geospatial Research, Education and Government Management, written in 2009,  provides some useful insight about the potential for GIS technology to help create “more useful results” The authors, Jackson, Schell and Taylor explain that geospatial technologies have evolved and converged with a wide variety of other information technologies over the last fifteen years.

“Now they are of a piece, they “talk to one another” and interact freely in a fertile communications environment of wireless broadband, portable cell phone/computers, sensor-webs and, of course, the dynamically evolving environment of the World Wide Web.”

Jackson, Schell and Taylor explain the value of GIS tech for “industry stakeholders”, who are apparently on a mission to save us all.

“. . .expansion of human population and industry has brought humanity to a point of converging crises, and diverse industry stakeholders see geospatial technology in this context as a critical factor in enabling humanity to avoid disaster”

These GIS experts believe that  enlightened leaders must exert control over people and markets in order to bring about what they believe to be “more useful results” than would occur if people and markets were permitted to self-arrange.  In other words GIS is a tool for the managers and planners of society to control populations and the economy to produce the outcome that they know is best.

Jackson, Schell and Taylor write;

“. . . the market forces that drive the evolution of technology do not meaningfully, or in any disciplined way, take into full account the needs of science and social processes.”

I am no economist but the market forces or the law of supply and demand just observes that if there is a need for something the profit seeking market will oblige and at a price that reflects the real value of the service or good. What do the “needs of science” or “social processes” have to do with it?   Seems like if the market forces are not providing,   then there must not be a demand or the need is not one that can be met through the market.  Maybe they want “market forces” to address something that is beyond its scope and if that is true does this mean they want to bend those forces to serve a purpose it is not capable of?

Jackson, Schell and Taylor have an answer for those like me who might be hopelessly outdated in their ways of thinking;

“Public servants are warned away from the old fashioned approach should leading thinkers and policy planners persist in defending traditional institutional and economic intellectual practices.”

The “old fashioned approach” is the one that still dominates the thinking of many Americans.   I believe that Jackson, Schell and Taylor’s “traditional institutional practices” includes thepersistent idea that every individual has certain unalienable rights not grated them (and therefore not to be taken away from us) by government, as one that leading thinkers and policy planners need to be warned away from.  What should these thinkers and policy planners be focusing on instead?

“The point is, that governments should be thinking strategically about how geospatial technology should be positioned, through policy and law, to contribute as fully as possible to the social welfare and international cooperation. . .” 

Read More about The Evolution of Geospatial Technology

Here are just a few of the sectors of government, society actively utilizing GIS technology;

Government

Regulatory Compliance

“Government agencies use GIS to create and enforce environmental legislation. Services and businesses use GIS to comply with environmental regulations and mandates.

In addition, cooperation between agencies is simplified by the use of a central database that can be leveraged for cross purposes such as financial information, ownership, improvements, and plans.”(Emphasis mine) Link

Health and Human Services

GIS as a tool for the health industry entails leveraging a variety of personal and spatial data for the purpose of “creating a state of health

Location, location, location

Spatial data is is information related to place.

“The old real estate addage that “location is everything” holds a new meaning in today’s world. Not only can location tell us about where we are, it can also tell us about who we are and what we do. The spatial data systems that store and integrate facts about us are becoming just as, if not more, important than the maps that they produce. Location is the unique characteristic that can join disparate data sets and uncover a variety of information about our daily lives.”  Spy in the Sky: Spatial Data Privacy Issues in Geographic Information Systems

The touted benefits of GIS for health are many but the catch is too much to swallow.

You first have to accept the idea that information is equivalent to knowledge or wisdom and then you have to have utter faith that the government health managers will be eternally generous and utterly benevolent to all individuals-always. Personally, I say no thanks…but really, they aren’t asking us to agree.  They are simply doing it.  And they are doing it globally I might add.

The UN’s Millennium Development Goals

Harmonizing health information systems with information systems in other social and economic sectors.

The Millennium Declaration of eight development goals (MDGs) has intensified international pressure to strengthen information systems to monitor 48 target indicators–18 of which are health-related
. . .Geographical information systems provide coherent demonstrations of geographical disparities in poverty, social determinants and service delivery. Several systems are in use, for example, DevInfo has a mapping facility within it, and HealthMapper (42) is a WHO system for mapping public health data. The UN has set up a working group to agree standards and achieve some compatibility in core data and geographical boundaries.”

Barack Obama, September 22, 2010   ” And today, I’m announcing our new U.S. Global Development Policy — the first of its kind by an American administration. [. . .] it outlines our new approach and the new thinking that will guide our overall development efforts, including the plan that I promised last year and that my administration has delivered to pursue the Millennium Development Goals.  Put simply, the United States is changing the way we do business

Remarks by the President at the Millennium Development Goals Summit in New York, New York

By 2020, public health information systems in the United States, such as disease registries, will be integrated into grids linked by the National Health Information Network (NHIN) that will utilize the Next Generation Internet (NGI) or Internet2.
link

The following is from a GIS project report, Reflection and Comment Health GIS in the mid-west: Unexpected developments and directions, by Frank Houghton, Ireland.  The paper mostly focuses on the success of the project but it also includes some of Mr. Houghten’s concerns about the technology and how it is being utilized.

As noted in this report, GIS is being used as a powerful tool for central planning.  Under the heading of central planning falls the correcting the unequal distribution of resourceswhich, of course, is another way of saying “redistribution of wealth

A major focus of GIS should be in using it as a tool to help explore and highlight and fight inequality and poverty” 

Writing about the data being collected and geo-referenced on population health in Ireland, Frank Houghton notes;

“This report included not only ‘standard’ information, such as Census small area population     statistics and deprivation data, but also information from a host of previously unmapped and inaccessible computerised health information systems.”

Control

Mr. Houghton also refers to a “disquieting” aspect of the approach to GIS that emerged during this project.

“. . .the way in which it was discussed was very clearly connected with the issue of control. These overtones bring to mind sociological discussions around the issue of technology as a tool of oppression”

Houghton concludes;

. . .It is apparent that GIS has the potential to not merely maintain the status quo, but to be used actively as a means of management command and control.”

Frank Houghton Irish Centre for Research on Applied Social Studies, Limerick Institute of Technology and National Institute for Regional and Spatial Analysis

GIS is the Great Integrator

“Today’s GIS is foundational—it is based on open technologies and industry standards, meaning that it integrates fully with existing information systems. . . Geographic information systems bring together data from any source.” (Emphasis Mine)  IACP

“Geographic Information System (GIS) technology can help establish cross-sectoral communication – by providing not only very powerful tools for storage and analysis of multisectoral spatial and statistical data, but also by integrating databases of different sectors in the same format, structure and map projection in the GIS system.”

http://www.fao.org/sd/eidirect/gis/EIgis000.htm

“As we learn to link biometrics to biographic, geospatial, social networks and other forms of data, we can develop patterns of activities for both individuals and organizations, resulting in tactical and strategic situational awareness and intelligence advantage.”   LINK

Are we starting to get the gist of all of this?

GIS for Global Health

Global Public Health Grid (GPHG)

CDC/WHO GPHG

 

 The World Health Organization (WHO) and National Center of Public Health Informatics (NCPHI) have forged collaboration on a Global Public Health Grid (GPHG) initiative to enable global data exchange and collaborative development of globally shareable and interoperable systems, tools and services.  GPHG aims to improve global public health by providing a standards-based informatics platform, and collaboratively developing and implementing a wide range of public health informatics applications and services leveraging widely distributed global expertise, thus enabling dissemination and exchange of information across different jurisdictional levels.

Link

Public Health Mapping and GIS

International Health Regulations Coordination

“There is an urgent need to invest in the development and roll-out of a public health mapping and monitoring system at the subnational level in all countries as the basis for global, regional and national responses to the main health threats of the 21st century” Link

 

ADVANCED HEALTH INFORMATION SHARING WITH WEB-BASED GIS

2007 A global partnership

“Since its establishment in the 1990s, the Programme has built a global partnership involving WHO Member States, WHO Regional Offices and Country Offices, other UN agencies and bilateral partners, universities and research institutions, collaborating centres, the private sector and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

[. . .]” Public health mapping and GIS enable the standardization of surveillance data from village level to global level and across diseases, as well as the analysis of health-related data from other sectors such as education, environment or official development assistance. In addition, target populations can be precisely located and profiled without time-consuming and costly field research” LINK

 

Oklahoma Health and GIS

Oklahoma State Department of Health Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Needs Assessment and Requirements Analysis Report of Findings and Recommendations 2008

FINDING

Historically, the model of GIS coordination at OSDH has been decentralized.

RECOMMENDATION:

OSDH can better focus mapping activities by continuing with and expanding upon the centralization efforts that were initiated in 2006 with the hiring of the GIS Coordinator and strengthened by the creation of the GIS Advisory Committee. Carefully guided centralization efforts will provide for efficient and effective application of GIS technology. Pg 1

There is a need to normalize datasets and to create agency-wide identifiers for people and facilities to enable higher quality analysis and program evaluation.

The Health Informatics Council and its subcommittees are addressing people identifiers.

Pg 3

GIS in OKLAHOMA

In 1994 the Oklahoma Legislature passed and the Governor signed a bill that authorized the Oklahoma Conservation Commission to prepare a “Strategy for Developing a GIS for the State of Oklahoma” and created the State GIS Council to assist the Conservation Commission in this project. The Conservation Commission serves as the chair of the State GIS Council. For more information on the State GIS Council, visit their web site at http://www.okmaps.onenet.net.

In 2007, the Council expanded on the initial goals set forth in the legislation, identifying eight primary issues in the development of the strategy http://www.okmaps.onenet.net/mission.htm

More information about GIS development in Oklahoma

Oklahoma Office of Geographic Information

Strategic & Business Plan for Fiscal Years 2008 – 2010

Oklahoma GIS “Next Steps” 

“Expand the GeoCIP® GIS to include social and economic assets,(Emphasis mine) such as demographics, schools, social or cultural groups, business establishments, land parcels, sales or tax records, workforce, etc. for comprehensive asset mapping and economic development planning”

Source-Oklahoma GI Council presentation dated 6 November 2009

Data Fusion Centers

More uses for GIS

Public Safety

Natural Resources

Even more uses for GIS

 

GIS for Law Enforcement and Homeland Security

Under Public Safety falls Fire and Emergency, Homeland Security, Law Enforcement.  Here are some excerpts from a paper entitled“Breaking Down Barrierswritten in 2009by Paul Christin.   I think gives a good picture of the function of GIS in this area.

Policing, Intelligence, Fusion

How Can This Be Done?

“Geographic information systems (GIS) have long been used by government agencies to build and maintain data and provide numerous services. Local, state and federal agencies have built large spatial databases over many years of GIS use. GIS mapping technology has become more prevalent in law enforcement and homeland security agencies in recent years. Indeed, geospatial capabilities within data fusion and intelligence centers — for both law enforcement and homeland security — are essential for collecting diverse data from multiple sources.              

A GIS-enabled platform integrates existing tools (such as link analysis, remote sensing and computer modeling) and emerging technologies (such as video surveillance, hazardous material detectors, license plate readers and biometric sensors). GIS links information systems with data capture devices and uses geography or the geographic component of data to link these independent pieces into a single, comprehensive whole.

GIS works within IT as the framework to capture, model, identify and manipulate data about behavior. . .To prevent crime or terrorist acts, you need something that can help track and model behavior to understand where problems are emerging. GIS technology can quickly access and integrate relevant variables (the location of incidents, common elements, time sequence, geographic features common to incident types, demographics and other variables) that establish patterns and trends. These results can then be fused with dynamic data feeds (traffic patterns, camera surveillance, 9-1-1 calls, weather, etc.) to develop comprehensive situational awareness.

Information, once captured, can be integrated with other data, analyzed and disseminated to anyone who needs it, no matter the location or agency for which the requester works. It’s a new law enforcement and homeland security IT approach thats changing the way agencies operate in the new millennium.” (Emphasis mine)

Breaking Down Barriers, Paul Christin, Homeland Security Specialist for ESRI  2009

Take a look at the data used with GIS to create “situational awareness” for Homeland Security purposes;

ESRI White Paper: Public Safety and Homeland Security Situational AwarenessGIS Situational Awareness Taxonomy  LINK

Common Data
Sources for Public
Safety Situational
Awareness

GIS is a core technology in the situational awareness landscape

Data Mining and Predictive Analytics

To address these issues, Information Builders has introduced Law Enforcement Analytics (LEA) to make all these data sources available for officers across the enterprise – providing a solution for intelligence-led and predictive policing. LEA combines many technologies – including traditional business intelligence (BI) concepts such as dashboards and scorecards, powerful ad hoc and predictive analytics, interactive mapping capabilities, data mining, and enterprise search.  LINK

Beverly Eakman on predictive analytics (Yes. She is talking about its use in schools)

“Today, hundreds of seemingly unrelated pieces of data that reveal political leanings and parental views are fed into a “predictive” computer algorithm. What’s a predictive computer algorithm? Well, it’s a mathematical formula that sifts masses of information, then predicts what a person will probably do, given various hypothetical scenarios. “

More on Predictive Analytics

The potential for good that could come from such a massive amount and variety of information that can be collected, analyzed, shared and integrated and referenced by physical location by GIS is fast overshadowed by the realization of the potential for abuse this technology enables.  And that is no idle concern.  It has transformed what was once one of GIS technologies greatest champions into an outspoken critic who hopes to be able to reverse the course of the technology that he once worked so hard to advance.

KU professor helps create emergency response database 2001

LAWRENCE — If there is such a thing as a weapon against weapons of mass destruction, Jerry Dobson is helping to perfect it. .

The database is supported by a geographical information system (GIS) that combines data from a variety of sources, including best-available census counts of every country in the world, terrain and nighttime lights interpreted from satellite images, road networks and elevations. The LandScan Global Population Database provides the distribution of people in sections even more precise than one square kilometer per cell

. . . The database is already popular among several organizations involved in the war on terrorism, including the United Nations, the World Health Organization and the U.S. State and Defense departments, he said.

. . .While much has been said about this war being unlike any previous one, that point perhaps is best illustrated in the growing importance of the LandScan database. By providing crucial information on population distribution, it is helping authorities balance the need to keep an eye on global developments that affect specific communities.

“I’ve used the expression ‘Global threats to local places,’ and that’s what we are facing now,” Dobson said.

http://www.news.ku.edu/2001/01N/OctNews/Oct11/dobson.html

Between 2001 and 2003 Dobson did an about face.

KU researcher warns against potential threat of ‘geoslavery’

March 5, 2003

LAWRENCE — Jerome Dobson wants to make sure his field of research doesn’t aid the greatest threat to personal freedom.

As a pioneer of geographic information systems (GIS), Dobson, a researcher at the Kansas Applied Remote Sensing Program at the University of Kansas, helped develop the technology that now is commonplace in government, business and practically every aspect of modern life.

Since 1975, Dobson has used GIS for a number of applications — from conducting environmental analyses to identifying populations at risk of terrorism and natural disasters — by combining data sets such as detailed population counts of every country in the world, terrain and nighttime lights interpreted from satellite images, road networks and elevations. Dobson, who is a professor of geography at KU, also is president of the American Geographical Society.

Unfortunately, the same technology that has so many beneficial uses also has the potential to create a highly sophisticated form of slavery, or “geoslavery,” as Dobson calls it. What worries Dobson is that GIS technology easily could be used not only to spy on people but to control them as well.

“It concerns me that something I thought was wonderful has a downside that may lead to geoslavery — the greatest threat to freedom we’ve ever experienced in human history,” he said.

Read More

Here’s one more qualified expert whose words should carry some weight.  GIS is just one more technology that appears to be elemental in what Brzezinski calls the “technotronic era

“The technotronic era involves the gradual appearance of a more controlled society.   Such a society would be dominated by an elite, unrestrained by traditional values. […] The capacity to assert social and political control over the individual will vastly increase.  It will soon be possible to assert almost continuous surveillance over every citizen and to maintain up-to-date, complete files, containing even most personal information about the health or personal behavior of the citizen in addition to more customary data.   These files will be subject to instantaneous retrieval by the authorities.”

-Zbigniew Brzezinski

 

One response to “Getting the Gist of GIS-Geographic Information Systems

  1. I’ll have to keep this in mind as I get back to my property line research. We had issues with the city on a permitting issue. Now I have to dig through very old minutes prior to the charter change.

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