A majority of US local governments are benefiting from the use of geographic information system applications and mapping technology, a new national survey shows. About 97 percent of local governments with populations of at least 100,000 and 88 percent of those between 50,000 and 100,000 people use GIS technology, according to Public Technology Inc., a nonprofit research group that conducted the study in collaboration with several national municipal associations.
In addition, 56 percent of smaller governments, jurisdictions with fewer than 50,000 people, also utilize such applications. The report pointed out that county use is slightly higher than city use, 72 percent versus 64 percent.
Sponsored by the Interior Department, the survey of 1,156 local governments is part of a collaborative effort to develop the Geospatial One-Stop system, a federal project to help facilitate the collection and sharing of geographic or spatial data among federal, state and local governments.
The report indicated that GIS applications have become integral resources in various local functions, including public works, financial, public safety and economic development. For example:
77 percent of respondents use such technology to view aerial photography.
70 percent use it to support property record management and taxation services.
57 percent use it to provide public access information.
41 percent use it for capital planning, design and construction.
38 percent for permitting services, emergency preparedness and response activities.
33 percent for computer-aided response activities.
28 percent to support crime tracking and investigative activities.
Policy sharing for GIS data is also emerging, with overwhelming majorities of respondents saying they would allow the federal government to use their GIS data on floodplain mapping, land use, homeland security and emergency preparedness and response.
Costs for implementation are high and adequate funding is the biggest barrier, the report said, adding that awareness and education are also common barriers. Leading groups have developed regional projects to share information, data and costs with maintaining such GIS infrastructures, but such examples are scarce, it said. Sixty-four percent of respondents said they’re interested in GIS systems but cannot afford them, while 42 percent said they don’t have the technical expertise.
Homeland security funding could be an answer to develop such systems. “GIS applications and solutions clearly resonate with emergency management and public safety executives as an essential tool to provide the most effective support of their efforts,” the report noted. “When you combine ground-truthing imagery, GPS and digital maps, the possibilities are limited only to your imagination.”
An overwhelming majority of survey respondents said building additional GIS layers and applications, maintaining data and providing training, among other things, could be improved with such homeland security funding to support those initiatives.
The report proposed that the federal government take the lead in promoting GIS use through outreach programs and training for local government officials, volunteer programs to assist in project work and access to GIS tools and resources via the Internet. States and local governments should also promote best practices, provide education and conduct surveys.
By Dibya Sarkar