What is GIS used for?
Geographic information system (GIS) technology can be used for a wide variety of applications. GIS can gather, manipulate, store, and analyze geographic data which makes it useful for government, researchers and business. Data quality is a huge limitation for all applications of GIS. So, what GIS is used for? Following are ten common applications …
1: Emergency Response and Disaster Monitoring
Emergencies and natural disasters can happen without warning and fast response times are critical. GIS can be used to quickly plot the fastest route to an emergency site so emergency medical personnel or first responders can be on-site with as little delay as possible. As an example, in a flooding situation GIS is useful in 4 ways…
- Planning and mitigating – for example, where are flood prone areas, how many people live there, and what are their demographic characteristics (elderly)?
- Being Prepared – where could you evacuate elderly people to, and what roads would be above the flood peak?
- Responding – what is the status of rescue efforts and where are the rescue units at any given time?
- Recovering – quantification of damage to both the built and natural environment. Following the 2004 Banda Aceh tsunami, I was involved in identifying (based on geology, site accessibility,…) new waste disposal sites for the cleanup.
2: Real Estate
When maps are connected to databases that describe what the map is about, GIS can be very powerful. When you are thinking about buying a home, GIS can help you to locate properties and evaluate the neighborhoods they are in. Real estate search applications are common on the web these days. This also extends to real estate agents – they need to understand how they are going strategically, and market share analysis is one way to do this. GIS also helps banks with property valuation for the purpose of lending.
3: Crime Mapping
What is GIS used for by police (and emergency services)…
- Gathering, modeling and presenting crime data to identify areas for placement of fast-response services. For example, depending on traffic flows and time-of-day, vehicles may need to be positioned closer to road accident hot-spots.
- Presenting crime data by crime type and time of day to understand crime patterns as they’re unfolding and forensically
- Dispatch of police and other services to an exact location (911 & 000 calls)
- Creating sex offender exclusion zones around playgrounds and schools (especially when paired with GPS monitoring)
- Geographic profiling of a series of connected crimes to hone in on where a criminal might be located
4: Environmental Impact Modelling
GIS can be used to test environmental compliance of various wastewater technologies for onsite wastewater treatment. For example, the environmental outcomes will be different depending on geographical factors such as soil type (sandy soils versus heavy clays) and available land area for receiving wastewater, in combination with the chosen wastewater technology.
5: Asset Tracking
Business uses GIS tracking to keep track of where their assets are. GIS tracking can be attached to equipment, specifically, to reduce loss from stealing or misplaced workers. By keeping better track of their equipment, these entities can reduce time and money lost from misplaced or stolen equipment.
One of the most valuable uses for GIS technology in the retail sector is its benefits for predicting areas of future growth. Retail businesses can use GIS software to evaluate a new location to see if it will be profitable – it can also be used to track traffic patterns in the area to optimize store hours.
Conservation groups use GIS technology to monitor conservation lands…
- GIS and GPS are used to track and monitor wildlife migration patterns.
- Vegetation mapping is often used as a surrogate for wildlife habitats so that it is easier to hone in on where wildlife might be found.
- Wildlife habitats can be modeled based on inputs such as elevation and aspect (from digital elevation models), and vegetation indexes from LandSat and other imagery sources
Government, utilities and contractors use Geographical Information Systems to keep record of underground plumbing, power lines, and phone lines so they don’t get damaged by digging equipment.
9: Delivery Route Planning
Delivery services like USPS and UPS use GIS mapping technology to optimize their delivery routes. GIS technology can help these services to reduce not only the time it takes to make deliveries, but the cost as well. GIS mapping can reveal traffic patterns, construction zones, and other obstacles that might slow down delivery so the driver can take an alternate route. Google maps route planner is another example of this functionality
10: Traffic Pattern Optimization
GIS software can be used to analyze traffic patterns to optimize the timing of traffic lights for improved traffic flow. It can also be used to plan detours around construction zones when needed.
So, what is GIS used for? I’ve just given you ten examples, and there are plenty more.
To see a whole bunch more uses, from applications as diverse as agriculture, housing and conflict resolution, be sure to download my 54 page free GIS eBook here.