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State Spotlight: Indiana

Megan Compton
Indiana Geographic Information Officer, Indiana Geographic Information Office

Interviewed by Robert C. Hoyler

“One challenge we have created is talking too much about GIS, from a technical aspect versus telling the story to better stimulate participation and success. How do we get there? The GIS topic can be overwhelming, so we need to put discussions in a recognizable format and relatable story to achieve a broader project to open the door. I’d like to challenge myself, or anyone, to a meeting and not say “map” or “GIS” - I think it would be difficult,” says Megan Compton, Indiana state Geographic Information Officer (GIO).

Compton became the GIO of Indiana in 2018 and attended her first NSGIC conference in Kentucky the same year. “The first conference was eye opening – I was still relatively green in my job and almost immediately found the NSGIC membership to be all people I have been looking for, who share the understanding of what I’m involved with. With this group, I can step into a conversation without having to explain the background,” says Compton. Learning about opportunities to support advocacy and lead at the national level has helped her implement growth in her own organization.

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State Spotlight: Alabama

Phillip Henderson
State of Alabama GIO, Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) / Director of the Alabama Geographic Information Office (AGIO)

Interviewed by Robert C. Hoyler

For the last 30 years, Alabama State GIO Phillip Henderson has worked in state government with much of that time spent working in the field of GIS. He was appointed as the Geographic Information Officer (GIO) for the State of Alabama by Governor Bentley in September 2014 and the Director of the Alabama Geographic Information Program Office in June 2011. He also serves as the Director for Virtual Alabama at the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA).

“It was truly significant to see the establishment of the state GIS office in 2011 and to see the creation of a GIO position in 2014’” reflected Henderson.

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A Closer Look at Geospatial Maturity Assessment Disconnects

The initial 2019 Geospatial Maturity Report (GMA) report was just that - initial. Like geologic stratigraphy, the more you dig into it, the more complex information you can find and understand about the layers above. I have been digging into the report findings to do just that, and as expected there’s a lot more to the story.

The inspiration for the GMA report card was the national report card produced by the Coalition of Geospatial Organizations (COGO). A logical step is to take a look at how these evaluations compare. I was curious as to the consistency of the grades between the two. Through the GMA process, we determined that about half of the framework themes are led by the federal government, while the other half are led by state and local data stewardship efforts. While most of them are in general alignment, of the federal-led themes, two stick out as having a serious disconnect between the grades.

Geodetic Control and Governmental Units both received an A- nationally, while state grades don’t fare nearly as well. While the National Geodetic Survey (NGS) does a great job maintaining and improving a national geodetic control system, not many states are doing much to improve above and beyond the federal data and program. While the theme is poorly understood, it is important for states in the public land survey system (PLSS) to accurately map private property in those states. The grade disparity suggests an overconfidence in the extent and reaches of the federal program and its ability to serve state needs.

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Joint Statement on the Value of GIS in the Pandemic

The spread and effects of COVID-19 can be best understood considering space and time.

As governments are responding to COVID-19, more leaders are recognizing the value of “knowing the where.” The importance of knowing where the outbreak is growing, where high-risk populations are, where the hospital beds and important medical resources are, and where to deploy resources is essential. “Knowing the where” informs better decision-making.

In an effort to better understand the where, governments are recognizing the value of geospatial information and technologies and are engaging geospatial professionals to help them better understand the where to help them in their decision-making and response. Geospatial professionals bring unique analytical and visualization skills to the table that help responders and decision-makers visualize where the pandemic is spreading more quickly and can make the important decisions regarding where response and resource needs need to be focused. The value of telling the story through a map coupled with a geospatial dashboard provides a view of the event not readily seen in a table such as a spreadsheet. Beyond visualizing existing data, we can connect data from a location perspective, which enhances the value of the data sources being integrated. Equally important in this event is data on COVID-19 cases and testing packaged and shared in a way useful to scientists.

GIS (geographic information systems) is experiencing an unprecedented level of use. Historically, GIS was deployed following a disaster to help respond and recover. Today, GIS is used as a disaster is unfolding. The COVID-19 event is an outstanding example of how effective GIS is when robust data is available. Governments are realizing the value of investing in these systems and the people who run them.

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State Spotlight: Mississippi

Jim Steil
Director, MARIS (Mississippi Automated Resource Information System)

Interviewed by Scott Bennett

MARIS Director Jim Steil has been working in GIS for 26 years and in his current position for 16 years. Steil got his start in cartography from the earlier days of Mylar and technical pens and later on took a GIS class to create maps of his thesis area. He hasn’t looked back.

Steil says that over the past 20 years, he has seen the change from a few pockets of GIS activity and no real internet access to an incredible web-centric cluster of activities that he could only have dreamed of in the 90’s. Newer generations, he says, see even greater value in the technology. He also reflected on the change of GIS coordination efforts over the years - from purely technical get-togethers to the integration of policy/decision-makers as the main focus.

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Partner Spotlight: Dewberry

Power of Partnerships: Standardizing and Streamlining Preliminary Damage Assessments

In 2019, there were 100 major presidentially declared disasters in the U.S. providing recovery assistance to 39 affected states and territories. In order to obtain a presidential declaration, a governor or tribal chief must submit a request to their Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) regional office for assistance. This request includes preliminary damage assessment (PDA) information to document the extent of the disaster and its impact on individuals and public facilities. PDA information is used to show that the disaster is of such severity and magnitude that supplemental federal assistance is necessary for response and recovery efforts. For severe or catastrophic events, a governor or tribal chief may submit a declaration request prior to performing a PDA.

At Dewberry, we understand that dealing with the aftermath of a disaster is a stressful and trying time. Documenting damages can take time and resources that are better spent focusing on response and recovery efforts. Disasters are increasing in frequency and severity, therefore a streamlined approach to documenting damages makes the process of submitting declaration requests faster—facilitating an expedited recovery process. In partnership with ArdentMC, Dewberry supports FEMA, states, territories, and local agencies to help better quantify and quickly assess damage in an effort to expedite needed aid to impacted communities. We are now helping to facilitate and simplify the PDA process in an effort to decrease assistance timelines. Under this contract work with FEMA, the team is providing subject matter and technical expertise to help standardize collection of incident reported damage assessments in impacted areas using newly designed Esri Survey123 templates. These templates use GIS technology to electronically collect, submit, and validate damage assessment in a standardized and sharable way. The platform being used to manage the data collection is hosted in an Amazon Web Services (AWS) GovCloud region and is accredited by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Utilizing ArdentMC’s AWS competency in public safety and disaster response, coupled with Dewberry’s gold partnership with Esri, the PDA team has created a highly scalable collection platform for FEMA’s damage assessment mission.

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State Spotlight: Arizona

Jenna Leveille
Deputy State Cartographer, Arizona State Land Departments

Interviewed by Scott Bennett

Arizona Deputy State Cartographer Jenna Leveille has been working in GIS for about 20 years with 15 years of that in state government and in her current role for a little over two years. She first learned about GIS as an intern while getting her bachelor’s from Oregon State University. Leveille imagined she would work in wildlife conservation but a chance opportunity brought her to state government. She found a love and passion for GIS that has kept her engaged and committed to serving Arizona.

In the past two years in her role, Leveille has seen a significant increase in collaboration and involvement in the state GIS coordinating council. Partners from all levels of government and the private sector are collaborating to solve common problems. There is a community effort to reduce duplicative efforts, to network to better understand challenges and find solutions, and to volunteer time to benefit each other and the community as a whole.

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Partner Spotlight: Safe Software

Data-Driven Decisions in a Real-Time World

Top Data Integration Trends in 2020

Working with location-based information and analytics in 2020 involves a more complex set of challenges than ever: we have to manage huge data volumes, real-time information streams, and a rising number of systems that produce and consume data. Governments and other organizations need to harmonize information to ensure all datasets are up to date, comply with standards, and deliver high-quality data wherever it’s needed. This is why data integration workflows have become a crucial part of operations for companies around the world.

Here at Safe Software, we designed FME 2020 to help you tackle these challenges and more. Let’s look at the top industry trends in 2020 and how you can take your organization to the next level using data integration workflows.

Connect Real-Time, High Volume Datasets

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State Spotlight: North Carolina

Tim Johnson
Director, NC Center for Geographic Information and Analysis (CGIA), NC Department of Information Technology

Interviewed by Scott Bennett

North Carolina Center for Geographic Information and Analysis (CGIA) Director Tim Johnson has been working in GIS for 39 years and has been at his current agency in North Carolina for more than three decades.

Johnson’s interest in GIS started from a young age; he’d had an affinity for maps since he was a boy. He majored in geography as an undergraduate at Appalachian State University, where he took a couple of programming courses and started looking for ways to combine geography and computing. He found the GIS field through reading at the university library and other places. Johnson then pursued a master’s degree at the State University of New York at Buffalo and was fortunate to have studied with some of the early pioneers in the GIS field.

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“Sometimes life drops lessons in your lap without your lifting a finger. Serendipity, they call it.”
~ Charlton Heston

A phrase I hear frequently is, “All things happen for a reason”. If you’re like me, half the time you hear that you want to throat punch the person who said it to you. A quarter of the time, you couldn’t agree more and knew it would work out that way, and another quarter of the time you probably wonder one way or the other. Regardless, at some point we are all struck with the idea of crazy coincidence and fortunate circumstance; on the other side of the coin we’re dealt with raw deals that make us scratch our heads and wonder, with a lesson learned months (or years) down the road.

In my early days when I was a green newbie with the BLM, an old-timer told me that the federal planning process is circular; she meant that good, productive ideas had their time, fell out of fashion, and then came back in a few years as the latest and greatest idea. Meanwhile, the idea never really made it that far or became ubiquitous or successful. Over the years, I have observed this to be true both in federal and state government. Holding on to this paradigm, we never get anywhere as it’s one step forward, two steps back. Unless we study and consult history, we are bound to repeat mistakes of the past.

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NSGIC Releases Findings From Biennial Geospatial Maturity Assessment Survey

National States Geographic Information Council (NSGIC) has released its biennial comprehensive Geospatial Maturity Assessment (GMA) report, which provides NSGIC members and other partners with a summary of geospatial initiatives, capabilities, and issues within and across state governments. For the first time, NSGIC has modified the GMA survey to produce report cards for each state on central data themes and coordination topics.

The 2019 GMA, augmented with individual state report cards and framework data theme analysis, is an authoritative resource on the status of state geospatial programs. This deeper dive can assist states in setting goals, identifying peer states for collaboration, pinpointing areas requiring attention, and connecting states with opportunities and resources. It also provides an important tool for federal partners to identify areas for key coordination, cooperation, and collaboration, and for the private sector to build software and services that comprise the tools that make it all work.

"The state report cards produced by NSGIC through the Geospatial Maturity Assessment marks a watershed moment for really being able to gauge where states are with their GIS programs, both on their own and in relation to neighboring states. The GMA report should prove to be an invaluable resource for Geospatial Data Act implementation. We hope it helps to identify states that need help and provide them with resources to improve,” said Karen Rogers, NSGIC President and Wyoming state representative.

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More States to Integrate Mapping Technology into Elections Systems as NSGIC Project Moves into Second Phase

National States Geographic Information Council (NSGIC) has been awarded $300,000 by the bipartisan Democracy Fund Voice organization for the second phase of NSGIC’s Geo-Enabled Elections project. This continues a national effort by state government geospatial information officers and coordinators to work with other state agencies, local elections officials and state elections offices, national GIS (geographic information system) and elections organizations, and federal partners to identify opportunities to leverage this powerful technology to strengthen elections management and citizen engagement.

“As an organization made up of GIS leaders in state government, NSGIC is uniquely positioned to leverage the innovative work of states to use GIS for elections data. We have enlisted those innovators to contribute and advise throughout the project. Collaboration has been key to the success of the project. Relationships built in the first phase of the project will be invaluable to the work of the second phase as the project seeks to increase engagement and, ultimately, impact,” said Molly Schar, NSGIC Executive Director.

The Geo-Enabled Elections project was launched in October 2017 and will now continue for an additional two years. The project aims to help strengthen electoral systems by supporting states in the adoption of GIS. Concretely, this means encouraging state governments to replace non-spatial ‘address file’ systems with election precinct and voter data in a GIS format, leveraging that format’s inherent visual and analytical advantages.

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Coming Together for Next Generation 9-1-1: State GIS Coordinators, 9-1-1 Boards, and Public Safety Answering Points

Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG9-1-1) is a ‘game changer’ for the 9-1-1 community because it will utilize GIS technology to deliver every 9-1-1 call —mobile, VOIP, and landline — to public safety answering point (PSAP) centers with precise geographic coordinates.


  • Uses authoritative GIS data for call routing and location validation
  • Conducts real-time two-way voice, text, and video emergency calls via IP-based networks
  • Accesses personal sensor notifications—including collision detection and medical alert systems
  • Better location data result in fewer misrouted calls, and an IP-based network of networks will simplify transferring emergency calls and associated data to other PSAPs
  • Interoperable data standards enable PSAPs to better assist each other in emergencies
  • Improves area-specific multi-media emergency alerts to wireline and wireless devices

PSAPs will be required to use up-to-date and standardized geographic information thatare regularly shared to regional and/or statewide datasets, including:

  • Civic location data including address points and road centerlines that have been synchronized with MSAG and ALI databases.
  • Emergency service boundaries, including law, fire, EMS and PSAP boundaries that are free of gaps and overlaps and have been coordinated with neighboring jurisdictions.
  • Provisioning boundaries, which define who is responsible for providing the above GIS datasets for a specific geographic extent.

While states across the country are in various stages of preparation for implementation of the next generation of 9-1-1 (NG9-1-1), it is clear that strengthening relations with state 9-1-1 leadership and PSAPs is critical to the success of NG9-1-1.

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NSGIC Announces New Board Members; Wyoming’s Karen Rogers takes over as President

National States Geographic Information Council (NSGIC) is proud to announce the appointment of five new members to its Board of Directors, as well as the full slate of officers and board members for the 2019 - 2020 term. Joining the Board of Directors are Karen Rogers (WY), Frank Winters (NY), Tim Johnson (NC), Jenna Leville (AZ), and Neil MacGaffey (MA).

Karen Rogers makes the move from President-Elect to the new President of NSGIC, taking the reign from Dan Ross (MN). Karen is a Habitat Protection Analyst for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. She got her start in GIS as an archaeologist with the Pinedale BLM 20 years ago. As a certified GIS professional, she currently serves as the President of WyGEO and has been on the Board of Directors of NSGIC for the last 5 years.

"The seismic advances in technology over the next few years are positioning our organization to drive enormous geospatial innovation within the states and at the federal level,” said new NSGIC President Karen Rogers. “I’m honored to take the helm of an organization with the talent, enthusiasm and professionalism of NSGIC. Together with the board, our staff and industry partners, we’ll chart a path for true innovation and technological change that will enable our policymakers to deliver more efficient and effective government within the states and across our country.”

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NSGIC Releases Best Practices for Improving America’s Elections

Two-year project delivers concrete guidance for how states can increase the accuracy and efficiency of elections using geographic information systems (GIS) technology

National States Geographic Information Council (NSGIC) released Best Practices for Geo-Enabling Elections, aimed at decision-makers in elections management across the nation, Monday. The guidance, developed in collaboration with ten states and subject matter experts from both elections and GIS fields, is the result of a two-year project focused on reducing election errors.

“You could say this project is about getting the right ballot to the right voter,” says Molly Schar, NSGIC’s executive director. “Even in a democracy as old as ours, this doesn’t always happen. Voters are occasionally placed in the wrong voting district by mistake, and then given the wrong ballot. As a result, unfortunately, election results are questioned, sometimes with legal battles and expensive election do-overs as a consequence. Strengthening the accuracy and efficiency of our electoral system, on the other hand, will ultimately increase voters’ confidence that their voices are being heard.”

Geospatial technology is a solution to the problem of voters being accidentally assigned to the wrong voting district. In the same way that many of us use maps on our phones to navigate to unfamiliar locations, election authorities can “pin” voters on electronic maps, and thereby ensure voters are automatically allocated to the right voting districts or precincts and given the right ballot to vote. The technology becomes particularly valuable when voting district boundaries are redrawn, such as after the upcoming 2020 Census. With voters as“pins” on a digital map, digital renditions of the new district boundaries can simply be overlaid over those pins,and voters automatically sorted into the right district.

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Will Your State Host NOAA's Next Digital Coast Fellow?

Over the past year, former Alaska Sea Grant research trainee Richard Buzard has been working with the Alaska Division of Geological & Geophysical Surveys Coastal Hazards Program in Anchorage, Alaska to help rural Alaskan coastal communities understand flood impacts and respond to coastal storms, and develop flood impact guidance for coastal mapping on the last frontier.

Rich was partnered with mentor DGGS Coastal Hazards Program (CHP) lead scientist and program manager, Jacquelyn Overbeck, as part of NOAA's Digital Coast Fellowship program.

The NOAA Coastal Management Fellowship and Digital Coast Fellowship Program matches postgraduate students with key NOAA partners to work on specific projects for two years. The program provides fellows with professional mentoring and training and the hosts with technical assistance to help them manage the coast effectively.

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Partner Spotlight: AppGeo

NSGIC Annual Conference: Five Things on Our Minds

It’s been 55 years since Bob Dylan penned the times they are a-changin’, but that sentiment is truer than ever today in the world of GIS. Although we could make a lengthy list of things a-changin’, we’ve picked these top five, which we feel are particularly relevant to state GIS leaders. We look forward to conversations with you in Snowbird!

  1. Strategic planning 2.0 -- Many states haven’t done a full-on strategic plan since the FGDC Cooperative Agreement Program (CAP) grants from a decade ago. There’s been a whole lot of change since then, with new players, new paradigms for data access, new technology options, new political realities, and more. In our view, we need a change, a v2.0 approach to strategic thinking about the roles and goals of geospatial and its societal impact. A strategic plan sets the course for both vision and activities in a state GIS office, so this piece is very, very important.
  1. Geospatial Data Act -- It’s finally federal law, which means that it’s finally time for the US (and us!) to get serious about building and supporting a shared set of national geospatial capabilities. States will have a key role as the middle layer between national and local level participants in this endeavor. There are also opportunities to connect some national geospatial data silos, such as Next-Generation 9-1-1 and the National Address Database, which we need to move from idea to reality. This ties in nicely with v2.0 strategic planning, which is a formal responsibility of the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) under the new law. Ideally, the FGDC would again step up and provide support for the level of multilateral, nested strategic planning needed to engage the broad and diverse geospatial stakeholder community.
  1. New urgency on environmental problems -- We’re facing ever more urgent problems with more potent hurricanes and storms, greater wildfire threats, increased flooding potential, accelerating human consumption of natural resources, and many other issues. All of these need geospatial analytics to understand, and even predict the risks we now face and to develop solutions. If you are a parent (and even if you are not), these environmental issues should concern you and spur you to engage as truth-tellers with GIS.
  1. The shifting sands of geospatial data sources -- It wasn’t that long ago that government was the primary source of most GIS data, but that is becoming less and less true. We are seeing huge geospatial data investments from global internet companies, the auto industry, new imagery providers, and an explosion of data coming from sensors and “things” everywhere. This shift requires a rethinking and repositioning of the role of state GIS offices as the [providers/aggregators/curators/distributors] of geospatial data. See also, strategic planning, v2.0, above.
  1. Addresses, addresses, addresses -- It has become increasingly clear that address data containing accurate lat/long coordinates attached to every street address record is so fundamental to so many important uses, that we need to redouble our effort to get this done right, and done in a way that leverages the support resources and capabilities of many separate constituencies who will otherwise continue to work on address data separately. Oddly enough, this ties in with v2 strategic planning.

You might have a different list of top five issues, and we’d love to hear them. We look forward to having some great conversations with you at the NSGIC conference. For us, it’s the best event of the year to talk with the top geospatial thinkers and movers. We can share our observations with you that come from the rich variety of projects we’re involved in across the country. And we love to hear your perspective on what you see a-changin’ from the driver's seat as state GIS leaders.

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Thriving Elections, Boundary Management in Focus at Elections GeoSummit

On August 14, 85 leaders in elections management and GIS, representing 15 states, converged at The Eaton, Washington D.C., to share leading-edge findings and craft best practices to enhance the nation’s election system using GIS. With the 2020 Census on the horizon, followed by redistricting, boundary management was a key topic. How do states and other election authorities ensure that each voter votes in the right electoral contests, on an on-going basis, but particularly following redistricting?

A large part of the answer lies in leveraging the key technology that NSGIC’s Geo-Enabled Elections project is focused on; integrating GIS in election systems across the nation to increase election accuracy and efficiency, while avoiding costly mistakes and do-overs.

The Elections GeoSummit represented the culmination of the Geo-Enabled Elections project’s work to date and featured panel discussions with participants in the project’s five pilot studies and five case studies. In addition, the summit included a highly anticipated presentation of the project’s draft best practices to enhance elections with GIS. A publication of the final best practices will follow in September.

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State Spotlight: Washington

Joanne Markert
State GIS Coordinator, WaTech, Office of the Chief Information Officer / Geospatial Program Office

Interviewed by Sheila Steffenson

Washington State GIS Coordinator Joanne Markert has been working in GIS for almost 25 years. Markert got her start in natural resources and planning and fell in love with GIS when she realized it helped figure out where the resources were. She hasn’t looked back since.

Markert has been in her current position with Washington Technology Solutions (WaTech), Office of the Chief Information Officer / Geospatial Program Office for a little over two years now. She says “GIS is always evolving. Even in my very short time with the state, we have streamlined data sharing by consolidating individual agency sites into a single statewide open data site. Our next project will be sharing data among agencies using portal-to-portal technologies. Anything that reduces redundancy is a priority.”

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Partner Spotlight: GeoComm

Accurate GIS data is important throughout 9-1-1 emergency response and has a critical role in NG9-1-1 by determining which Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) to route a 9-1-1 call to. This process of geospatial call routing enables better accuracy than traditional 9-1-1 systems and can reduce the number of 9-1-1 calls transferred due to misrouted 9-1-1 calls.

For the last 25 years, GeoComm has been working to help GIS and 9-1-1 teams across the country understand the role GIS plays in 9-1-1 and NG9-1-1, empowering them to achieve public safety grade GIS. Our assess, improve, and maintain proven process tackles the common obstacles agencies face when working to implement an NG9-1-1 system. Because the NG9-1-1 services utilized in this approach are simple and straightforward, they are easily adaptable for jurisdictions of all sizes including local, regional, and statewide.

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