By Ms. Sandra Arnold (USACE)October 11, 2012
GALVESTON, Texas (Oct. 11, 2012) - Combining visual communication with access to information and analysis is helping transform the way the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Galveston District is managing its assets, serving the public and communicating with partner agencies -- thanks to Geographic Information Systems technology, better known as GIS.
GIS capabilities are saving the district time and money by enabling staff to share critical information with other government and partner agencies, automate and improve internal data workflows, provide the most accurate data to assist leadership in making better-informed decisions and maintain precise geographic records.
"GIS captures, stores, analyzes and manages geographically-referenced information, allowing users to create interactive queries, analyze spatial information, edit data and map results," said Dr. Michael Sterling, chief of USACE Galveston District's Hydrology and Hydraulics Section. "GIS affords people the opportunity to better communicate with each other. You've heard the phrase a picture is worth a thousand words, well, GIS is essentially a picture representation of our projects as they are in the field."
Developed more than 50 years ago, GIS was launched using proprietary hardware, required complex software and was managed by information technology specialists. Today, the program has evolved significantly to allow users to pass data back and forth with ease using standard operating systems.
"During its infancy, GIS was a crude program, and it wasn't user friendly," said Project Manager Nicholas Laskowski, USACE Galveston District Regulatory Branch Compliance Section. "In the past five years it's become much easier to use."
Prior to the arrival of GIS, project information was stored in various locations throughout the district making it time consuming to locate and share information.
"Before GIS we lost a lot of time just retrieving and copying information," said Sterling. "With GIS, an incredible amount of data is now only a couple of mouse clicks away."
Initially used as a tool to produce maps, GIS now helps the district improve the efficiency of operations and processes.
"GIS is much more than just a mapping or storage tool, it's an analysis tool," said Laskowski. "It allows us to produce products very quickly. GIS basically integrates a spreadsheet with a location to produce a map that is both visually appealing and conveys significant amounts of data."
When a devastating tornado struck Joplin, Mo., in 2011, deployed Corps personnel who assisted in the cleanup efforts relied on GIS to compile and organize critical data.
"USACE was responsible for removing debris from private property," said Laskowski. "We used GIS to keep track of each individual piece of property and the status of the contracts concerning the cleanup. As a result, we were able to track where everything was at any particular time."
In addition to efficient tracking capabilities, GIS enables staff to readily exchange information with partner agencies and organizations.
"The district and the Texas General Land Office are working on a project that relies heavily on our GIS capabilities," said Sterling. "The GLO collects geotechnical data from our soils collection and maps them into a web-available, geo-database. We can then import this information into our database and that saves us the cost of getting all the data into the right format."
The Texas Coastal Sediments Geodatabase project entails consolidating and digitizing decades of useful, but often inaccessible, sediment data acquired along the Texas coast to primarily assist in identifying compatible sediment resources for proposed beach nourishment or habitat restoration projects.
According to Deputy Commissioner Helen Young, Coastal Resources Division of the Texas GLO, the information compiled and processed by the USACE Galveston District, Texas GLO, Rice University and Texas A&M University will also help reduce future expenditures for sediment data collection, avoid the duplication of efforts among organizations and will be made available to the public.
The USACE Galveston District will continue to work closely with its partners to enhance information management and sharing. In the coming weeks, the district will upgrade to "Enterprise GIS" to provide organization-wide geospatial capabilities while improving access to geographic information and extending geospatial capabilities to nontraditional users of GIS.
"There are a lot of different aspects that can be built into GIS and where you go with it is up to the user," said Laskowski. "I know that having GIS available in the district has made me a more efficient and accurate worker. It's a great tool."