Archive for Government

A New Look at the Earth: Landsat 8 Launches

Yesterday, NASA launched the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM) carry a new Landsat 8 satellite. According to NASA:

LDCM is a collaboration between NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The Landsat program has been providing uninterrupted imagery of Earth since the first Landsat in 1972. About three months after liftoff, USGS will take control and the spacecraft will be renamed Landsat 8. Once on station 438 miles above Earth, LDCM will orbit every 99 minutes and image the entire Earth every 16 days.

There’s not much technology that could claim to have contributed to observing the Earth than the Landsat satellites. Since 1972, The Landsat program has provided imagery used to study the Earth, including changes over the last 40 years. The program was almost not started, then had a history of funding trouble, with a stint at being privately run from 1983-1992.

As a graduate student, I studied Landsat 4 imagery to ascertain its cartographic value. While the spatial resolution improved over the previous Landsat imagery, from 75m to 30m, there were still challenges using the data for any robust accurate mapping. According to the USGS, Landsat 5 delivered high-quality, global data of Earth’s land surface for 28 years and 10 months.

This infographic is a good summary of the history and technical information.

A USGS study showed recent Landsat imagery top five uses as forestry, fire, land use, agriculture, and education. The uses of Landsat data continue to be important to society, as detailed in many articles on this NASA Landsat page.


SquareLoop Flies with Sprint for Location-Based Message Targeting


Let’s say you are an emergency coordinator dealing with a chemical spill and need to notify all police, fire, medical, and rescue professionals within a 50-mile radius. Send a message with the alert, and only those in that radius are asked to respond. Even residents of an area can subscribe to the service to receive alerts from officials should there be a disaster or other emergency.

Or you may be a retailer that has excess inventory to move in a certain store. You want all of your customers that happen to be in downtown Des Moines to know that there is a big sale going on at your store there. You don’t want to bother anyone else because the sale is local. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to send a message advertising the sale, and only people in or near downtown Des Moines get it?

SquareLoop is an emerging company that provides such services – the ability to send people messages based on where they are. The Reston, Virginia based firm today announced that Sprint is the first carrier to deploy its service, called Mobile Alert Network. Also announced is that Contra Costa County in California is the first jurisdiction to offer the company’s alerting service to its residents. I recently talked with Joe Walsh, Chief Operating Officer, and Brad Wills, Wills & Associates, representatives of the company.

Acrobatic planeA SquareLoop is an aerial acrobatic maneuver. One of the company’s early founders was an aviation buff and owned the URL. When they were thinking of a company name, he suggested it, thinking that one can draw a square or a loop on a map and send a message to everyone inside.

SquareLoop also Read more

GIS Finds the Sunshine in Florida

Jason Spalding

The Geo Factor interviewed Jason Spalding of emGISt who recently started Find GIS, a Web site focusing on GIS in the state of Florida. Jason answered questions about his goals for the site and what’s happening in Florida.

TGF: What is Find GIS?

Find GIS is a comprehensive GIS Web site catering to the Florida GIS industry. The site includes, but is not limited to: Florida GIS data download sites, GIS resources (blogs, tools, and user groups), GIS staff contact information (state agencies, counties, and cities), and University GIS Departments throughout the state.

TGF: Why did you start it? What do you hope to accomplish with the site? What have you already accomplished?

I started Find GIS in order to upgrade my Florida GIS Data blogspot. I created the blogspot more than four years ago as a way to assist GIS users in tracking down Florida GIS data and to keep the Florida GIS Community in the loop on related industry news and events. It was also a central location for clients, customers, and users to so they could download their own GIS data.

With Find GIS, I hope to assist GIS users throughout the state by providing them a one-stop industry resource. I am a big believer in having GIS data available as public records as defined under the Florida Government-in-the-Sunshine Law (aka Florida Sunshine Law), which is part of our state’s public record statutes. I also hope to use the site as a platform for myself and like-minded users to make contacts within the industry that are willing to pursue innovative ideas with regards to GIS applications and Location Based Services. Even though companies such as ESRI have been around for decades, I feel that the industry in general is still in its infancy and is changing every day. One of my favorite “pastimes” is to brainstorm about new ways that the power of GIS, GPS, and LBS can be harnessed and applied to everyday life.

One of my top GIS industry-related accomplishments to date is my pursuit of obtaining Palm Beach County’s parcel shapefiles under Florida’s public records laws. It was nearly a year-long saga that I pursued through the Attorney General’s Open Government Mediation Program. Briefly, Palm Beach County had a resolution in place that required any private entity to sign a data license agreement and pay a $20,000 “License Agreement Royalty Fee” in order to be able to obtain a copy of and redistribute their countywide copyrighted parcel shapefiles. The obvious issues were that the parcel shapefiles were copyrighted public records, and were created using tax payers money. Therefore, the records should have been available at the cost of reproduction as defined under the Florida Sunshine Law. The end result was Attorney General Charlie Crist, now Governor Crist, issued an Attorney General’s Opinion in my favor and the Palm Beach County Board of County Commissioners voted to rescind their GIS information policy resolution. Anyone can now download the latest version of these parcel shapefiles from Palm Beach County’s FTP site at no cost.

For full details, please see the early 2003 news articles on Find GIS, as well as the Attorney General’s Opinion (AGO #2003-42) which was issued on September 3, 2003.

A few of my other minor accomplishments recently were getting my original blogspot to the top result (out of 1,000,000+ returns) for a Google search of “Florida GIS Data”, obtaining over 8,000 subscribers to the Florida GIS Data News Feed, and the launch and promotion of the Florida GIS Data Sharing Network. The network is a Google Group and forum of GIS users across the state that share their industry knowledge and resources. The group has recently surpassed 500 approved members, the majority of whom reside within the state of Florida.

TGF: What is your professional background? Your company affiliation?

I graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering and currently hold an EI (Engineering Intern) license. I worked within the land development division of a local engineering firm for four years prior to developing a serious interest in GIS in 2002. At that time I started a small GIS consulting business, emGISt, Inc. (Enterprise Management & Geographical Information System Technologies, Inc.) which I continue to run today.

TGF: What is the business model for the site? How will it support itself or make money?

Good question! I need to Read more

URISA Still Relevant


Last week I attended the 45th Annual Conference of the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association (URISA) in Washington D.C. at what locals call “The Hinckley Hilton” because John Hinckley shot President Reagan there in 1981. While that is long forgotten by many, URISA conferences preceded the shooting by 14 years, holding its first conference in 1967 in Garden City, NY after formation in 1966. About 600 attended the conference and discussed a range of pressing topics concerning what most of them call geographic information systems (GIS).

The practitioners who attended are in tough environments. They work mostly for state and local governments as providers and maintainers of services as well as information used to make many important decisions. Most are tasked with improving the availability of geospatial information and services yet have limited resources to do so. With the increasing need for emergency planning, for example, information demands come from many quarters. However, concerns abound about Read more

Bridges, Businesses, and the $650+ Billion Bill

Like most other people, those involved in bridge construction, inspection, and maintenance must be distressed about this past week’s collapse of Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis. The tragedy calls into question the state of the country’s other bridges as well as additional infrastructure. There are almost 600,000 bridges in the U.S. and about 75,000 of them are considered to be “structurally deficient”. (For state-by-state map views, see this MSNBC page and this GeoCommons map.) Fixing them would be quite expensive – $188 billion according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. Roads are also troubled with about 20% in poor shape according to some figures, with a repair cost of $460 billion according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Primary responsibility for maintaining the bridges and roads infrastructure falls to state and local governments. Many of them simply don’t collect enough or allocate enough funding to address the issue. The private sector is helping out in some places, by operating toll roads, for example. Businesses should also be pressing their legislators to budget adequately for infrastructure needs.

But the problem will persist and businesses will suffer in several ways – increased taxes, longer commutes, and more traffic congestion. According to some studies, traffic congestion already costs the economy around $65 billion each year in lost productivity.

Where I live in the Washington, DC area, today’s headline in the Washington Post screams, “Inspections Note Significant Flaws, But Officials Call Area Bridges Safe” (registration required). Not comforting – it’s like your doctor saying, “Your blood pressure is high and your arteries are somewhat clogged but don’t worry about a heart attack.” Nine major bridges link DC to Maryland and Virginia, crossing the Potomac and Anacostia rivers. These bridges are critical to government and commerce functioning daily.

There are no easy solutions to the maintenance problem but geospatial information and technologies can help. Aerial imagery helps in repair and new infrastructure planning. Geospatial modeling can help better analyze the stresses on the infrastructure. Street network routing and analysis can help determine alternate routes for emergencies or repair periods. Planners can explore locations for new road and bridge sites. When doing site location studies, businesses ought to account for the status of the surrounding infrastructure, as it plays a big role in many aspects of smooth operations. Loss of life from infrastructure failure is unacceptable when it could be prevented with proper maintenance.