Emerging Possibilities, Growing Opportunities
Geographic Information System (GIS) Technicians are Becoming Invaluable Resources
From marketing to criminology, GIS technology is having a huge impact in Philadelphia.
A GIS database is used for capturing, analyzing and managing data, including geographic information, and can be used in almost any field. “This technology visually organizes information. It uses spatial analysis to find patterns and relationships of both natural and human features,” said GIS Instructor and Program Director Jamie Picardy.
Many times when stores ask for your zip code or address, they enter this information into a GIS database to help determine where to build a new store. Locally, “Target and Best Buy are doing this,” said Picardy.
Coleen Kinlin is taking her second GIS course at the College this fall in order to implement the effective and efficient technology into her office. She believes GIS will provide helpful resources for legal cases.
“GIS provides the capability to present information in a way people can understand,” she said, adding, “The maps are accurate and easy to read; the visual presentation is more powerful than spreadsheets.”
Kinlin, the claims coordinator for the Claims Unit in the city’s Solicitor’s Office, earned a bachelor’s degree in Hotel/Restaurant Management in 2000 but later decided to make a career change. She graduated from the College’s accelerated Paralegal degree program in 2005.
Many city departments are successfully using GIS technology as part of their everyday duties.
“We work closely with the city’s Water, Planning, Streets and Sanitation departments,” said Mike Urciuoli, a GIS specialist with the Crime Analysis and Mapping Unit of the Philadelphia Police Department.
Urciuoli and his colleagues, Colby Schofield and Lynn Gaines, are responsible for “maintaining and building Intranet sites and all data associated with those sites,” according to Urciuoli. For example, information on the times and locations of burglaries can be retrieved and displayed on a map.
The unit creates these visual resources for police personnel and the district attorney’s office, which uses maps for court cases. Because the GIS software has become so user friendly, Intranet applications recently were made available to police officers, allowing them to access the Intranet and create simple maps on their own. “We had training sessions at headquarters for captains in each district,” said Urciuoli. There is also a “help” link on the site with screen shots to assist users.
Due to the huge amount of information that needs to be entered into the databases daily, the police department has personnel dedicated to data input, or data capture, in order to allow the unit and others in the police department to access the information. But, the GIS team must “then scrub the data to correct any mistakes,” he said.
Numerous other responsibilities, such as geocoding, or calculating spatial locations (X and Y coordinates) from street addresses; building databases; programming automatic data downloads; and creating new applications keep the unit busy. “We have everyday tasks and long-term projects,” said Urciuoli.
Urciuoli holds a bachelor’s degree in Geography but said a lot of knowledge comes from on-the-job experience using ever-improving GIS software.
“The software is a lot more user friendly than before,” he said. “You can quickly find answers without too much experience.” The unit uses GIS software from ESRI, the main supplier of GIS software, as well as SQL databases and HTML.
With every new project comes the opportunity to use another facet of the software’s extensive applications.
“Every day, you can keep learning more and more. It is up to you to think outside the box.”
Read more about the Geographic Information System program at the College by visiting http://www.ccp.edu/site/academic/