To give an overview of the GIS system, I have asked Doug Sexton- GIS Coordinator - Planning Department, Warren County, VA, to answer a few questions:
Introduce yourself and why you are an expert on a GIS.
My name is Doug Sexton and I am a GIS Coordinator for local government in Virginia. I became involved with GIS (Geographic Information Systems) nearly five years ago as a Technician responsible for collecting data on new construction developments & infrastructure (homes, commercial sites, roads, utilities, etc.) through GPS methods & corresponding analysis, and have since furthered my interest and skills in the profession through learning experiences on the job administrating GIS servers, software services, & web applications while pursuing a post-BA education in GIS.
For those who aren't familiar, what is a GIS?
My definition of GIS (Geographic or Geospatial Information Systems) changes every day due to the large scope of the field and is never adequate to address all components, but in short can be thought of as a digital inventory of features on the Earth that combines the spatial location of these features (coordinates and geometry) with their attributes (name of a river, address of a home, owner of land). By projecting our three-dimensional planet onto a two-dimensional plane and associating information within a tabular database, we are able to perform area and distance calculations on the geometry of features within software systems, and provide summaries, counts, and reports on features we designate and filter through location or attribute queries.
How is a GIS most commonly used?
In local government, GIS is most commonly used as a device to aid planning, zoning, and building departments so that all permitted activities follow the land and building use within each jurisdiction's code. For instance, applying for a building permit on a lot of land that is in the floodplain can be preventing by simply visualizing a floodplain 'layer' on top of a selected lot. Automatic triggers can be built into software systems to take advantage of these capabilities (ie. no additional subdivisions allowed on a property that has already exceeded its max allotted divisions; no commercial use on a property zoned agricultural, or no agricultural use on a property zone residential etc) and most localities have some sort of software that leverages these capabilities. In addition, Emergency Communication Centers rely on address points and road center-lines derived from localities GIS data to provide effective emergency services from call centers to responders. There are many applications of GIS and with the role of location-based services expanding, the uses will continue to grow and evolve in the private industry from marketing, to real estate, and various commercial and industrial businesses.
How could the average person take advantage of a GIS?
Most localities offer an online GIS that provides the ability to view and interact with their data. A prospective home buyer would be able to visualize the location of their property on this system, view the zoning, and representation of their property lines (it is important to note that GIS boundaries do not constitute a legal survey!) and the relationship that this property has to various other geo-centric 'layers' available on the system: school districts, emergency service & postal zones, rivers and streams, distance to nearest school, hospital, fire station, etc. By simply opening the map application on our phone and plotting a location for distance and directions we are using an advanced GIS routing system. Recreationally there are some great services out there that for hiking, mountain biking, fishing, etc that enable an individual to do research before visiting a destination to take advantage of all that area has to offer, with the trend of these services moving in the digital direction, a wealth of information can still be derived from a static map.
Click Here to Explore the Harrisonburg GIS
Click Here to Explore the Rockingham County GIS