Esri User Conference 2011 CrisisMappers meetup – Where crisis meets the map!

For the past three years, during  the month of July, I’ve made it a point to visit the Disneyland in San Diego. I am sure you are already questioning my sanity. “Really, Disneyland in San Diego?”

Well, yes. As all geo-geeks would agree, the International User Conference organized by Esri ( it’s Ezree) in San Diego is, definitely, the “Disneyland” that attracts 14,000 geo-sapiens from all over the world. Here, the various geospatial offerings will take you from Alice in Wonderland to Space Mountain, “adventure(Is)land” is where you try out different geospatial software and a “fantasyland” of map gallery is filled with maps beyond imagination.

This year’s conference provided an opportunity for few of our crisismappers to meet.  The group comprised of members from Esri, Ushahidi, GIS Corps and SBTF. With increased partnerships comes more ideas and opportunities. An interesting relationship that blossomed during the meet-up was a possible partnership with GIS Corps. GIS corps is a 10 year old, dynamic group of professional volunteers providing GIS support to organizations dealing with crises. SBTF can leverage their GIS expertise in developing analysis capabilities to expand the amount of information made available to ground teams.

And of course, there’s Esri! These folks are dedicated to improving the analysis of crowdsourced information collected at the time of a crisis. During several crises including Haiti and Japan, Esri extended their support by offering data and publishing social media maps.  Discussions with the  Esri team have led  to concrete steps to be taken towards improving interoperability of Ushahidi with ArcGIS platform and also establishing a focus group of Ushahidi/GIS users. Members of SBTF’s analysis team will be involved in the focus group.

In addition to being a great place for exchanging ideas, the User Conference allowed us to explore cross-applications of GIS and draw inspiration from such projects from around the world. The Ushahidi team’s blog post is one such example that was inspired by GIS for the War-Fighter application. Other useful takeaways for SBTF related to GIS tools are:

ArcGIS Online is a place to access, and visualize maps and data created by GIS users.  There are tons of data, maps, and applications posted by various federal and private organizations. Newbies to GIS can create their own map that can then be viewed in a browser, desktop, or mobile platforms. The maps can also be shared via blog, email, or embedded in a website. The tools are highly intuitive; I encourage you to go create your first map today and become an official geo-geek! I believe that the crisismapping community can leverage this platform as a data repository to facilitate geospatial data exchange between agencies.

The option to create private groups is available which helps maintain integrity and security in data transactions. When a crisis response deployment demands added security such as a firewall, Esri’s Portal for ArcGIS (due to be released soon) helps. It is simply ArcGIS Online behind a firewall, that is, data residing in a private cloud.

GeoCommons, I quote from their website, are “a public community of geo users building open repository of data and maps for the world.” This is yet another free platform to create, share, analyze maps & data.

ArcGIS Explorer is another free product from the Esri family. Similar in functionality to ArcGIS Online, the Explorer provides free versions for both desktop and online, and enables creation of visually rich, map presentations. It is important for Crisis Mappers to create powerful stories, now made possible by this application.

Community Maps Program is an initiative by Esri that provides most of the thematic data found in ArcGIS Online.  Organizations, from local governments to humanitarian aid agencies, interested in making their data content broadly available utilize this program. I call this Esri’s crowdsourcing model for data collection but open to enterprises crowd only.

High resolution satellite imagery and LIDAR  were other hot topics discussed at the conference that SBTF could utilize for analysis during humanitarian crisis response deployments.

My affiliation with SBTF made this year’s user conference awe-inspiring because I met fellow crisismappers who once were strangers, got-together as a team, brainstormed, argued, supported,  developed wonderful friendships, and joined hands in the quest to save lives. I realized the significance of Patrick Meier’s (Co-founder, International Network of CrisisMappers) words, “Changing the world, one map at a time! ”

Special thanks to Jessica Heinzelman, a fellow crisismapper,  for sharing her thoughts and presentation at Esri User Conference.

 

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