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Q and A with GIS Society of Trinidad and Tobago

I contacted GISSTT with some questions so that we could learn some more. The questions were answered by Ms. Juel Paul, PhD Candidate/Graduate Research Assistant at UWI.

What is GIS?

Geospatial (Geographic) Information is information about the earth’s surface. More specifically we can gain knowledge about what is where and when. The “S” can stand for Systems – geospatial systems that allow us to create, analyse, visualise and store this knowledge. It can also stand for Science – the geographic and scientific concepts underlying the creation, analysis and visualisation of geospatial data.

A formal definition of GIS is

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) is a set of tools that integrate and link various components: hardware, software, human capital, data and processes; that capture, store, manage, analyse and model large amounts of geographically referenced information in order to meet the needs related to planning and management. (UNGGIM, Americas)

Altogether GIS facilitates the questioning, analysis, interpretation and visualisations of geospatial data to understand relationship, patterns and trends. One of the ultimate objectives of a GIS is to be an effective decision-making tool which facilitates better planning, management and use of resources.

What is GIS used for?

One of the most well known applications of GIS is web mapping and navigation. Google Maps and Waze have been making it easier for users to avoid rush hour traffic or find the location of a new business. Driven by GIS, these applications are a great example of the power of GIS. GIS is used in Crime Analysis and Mapping. Recognition of criminal hotspots, crime patterns and trends can be combined with socio-economic information to better understand fundamental causes of crime and help develop strategies to address these problems.

Urban Planning is another area where GIS is frequently used. By analysing current growth trends, planners are able to identify and manage land use policies towards the sustainable development of cities and communities.

Another notable field using GIS is Public Healthcare. Here, GIS is used to evaluate the effectiveness of resource distribution and the relationship to health outcomes. Additionally, by analysing disease patterns, health planners can also target areas for interventions.

What is GIS used for locally?

Locally, GIS is used by a number of organisations.

  • T&TEC uses GIS to improve the efficiency of its distribution network (see video).
  • The Ministry of Social Development uses GIS in its poverty reduction strategies (see video).
  • University of the West Indies developed an Interactive Campus Map using GIS (see link).
  • The EMA is also using GIS in its mandate (see video).

GIS is increasingly used in government ministries such National Security, Agriculture, Land and Fisheries, and Works and Transport. Agencies such as WASA, Institute of Marine Affairs and the Trinidad & Tobago Meteorological Service also use GIS. Many private companies also use GIS for fleet management and vehicle tracking, asset management, soil and geological analysis, surveying and telecommunication.

What sort of technology is used in GIS?

GIS is cross disciplined so it incorporates technologies from a number of areas. Fields include Photogrammetry, Remote Sensing, Surveying, Computer Aided Design, Computer Science and Digital Mapping.

Specific technologies include the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (drones), global navigation satellite systems such as GPS and GLONASS, LIDAR (light detection and ranging) an optical remote-sensing technique, 3D scanners and 3D Modelling techniques.

Can GIS help with disaster management and preparedness (think earthquakes and flooding)?

GIS is commonly used in disaster preparedness, management and recovery. Locally, the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM) uses GIS to identify disaster prone areas and manage disaster response (see link). Regionally, crisis mapping was crucial in saving lives in Haiti in 2010. By using crowdsourcing techniques, responders where are able to use social media to locate victims (see link). Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) are increasingly used in rapid disaster assessment, for example, by UWI in 2014 for the Manzanilla area (see video).

What are some of the issues that GISSTT is tackling?

The major issue that GISSTT and the wider GIS community in Trinidad & Tobago faces today is the lack of a National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI). An NSDI is the implementation of an integrated information infrastructure that provides geographical and other data. It also outlines standards that make the sharing of GIS data easier. The implementation of this is crucial to the further development of GIS locally as it would facilitate costs saving and reduce duplication of effort, a crucial problem locally. NSDI also promotes data sharing, ensuring that participating agencies will have access to the most current GIS datasets available. For more on the NSDI see video.

What is the future of GIS technology?

GIS is ever evolving. As technology moves forward the need for GIS as the geospatial infrastructure also increases. Augmented reality (AR) is an emerging field that increasingly uses GIS. AR superimposes digital information on a screen or viewer, e.g. a phone or tablet screen. A popular example is Pokemon Go.

Another emerging field is machine learning. By analysing historical geospatial, environmental and socio-economic data, computer algorithms can identify patterns and give new insights. This can be particularly useful in crime analysis.

How can Google Maps and Waze be made better?

These applications are proprietary apps that have a significant crowdsourcing element. While useful, none of the data collected is available for analysis. That is one area they can be improved.

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