What is GIS?
GIS stands for Geographic Information System. At Summit, GIS is an integral tool for problem–solving and decision-making. Most importantly, GIS is excellent for data visualization in a spatial environment.
Let us simplify.
Let’s say you have a list of data about a city. For our example, we will say we have the name, the grade levels taught, the number of students, and the address of every school in Raleigh, North Carolina.
The address of the school is the “spatial data.” It is the specific point on a map of Raleigh.
The “attribute data” would be the school’s name, the grades taught, and the number of students that attend each school.
Now that we have some basics about GIS, we will get some real-world examples of how Summit’s Planning and Maintenance Management teams use GIS data to provide our clients with high-quality work products to shape the communities we serve.
How we use GIS
A tool like GIS is only as good as the data behind the tool. Our team of experts, such as Anne D. and Britt M. know and understand the data components needed to build the maps to answer the right questions to inform the decision-making process.
Here are some examples of how GIS data can map the following:
- Where Things Are
- What is Happening – Think of areas that routinely experience floods during large rain events or segments road where lots of crashes happen – we can learn about what features or “attributes” are in located in that area.
- What’s Changing
From Anne D. – Planning Department Manager.
GIS can be used in a myriad of ways and is certainly used broadly in planning. We use maps to show existing land use, infrastructure, planned improvements, zoning and so on. We can show demographic data and overlay it with physical or programmatic features. For example, the presence of bike lanes or bus routes shown with the number of households without access to a personal vehicle.
It’s our goal and our duty to use maps to display data in ways that are accessible, clear, useful, and advance peoples’ understanding of the place they live.
But the way GIS stands out to me as a planner, and the reason I encourage my staff to learn the program and use it daily, is that GIS can be used as a thinking tool. Many map files I create never become ready for publication or print. I use them to understand the place for which we are planning – taking the time to pour over a GIS file, comparing existing land use, environmental features, previous future land use maps, and current zoning, in order to make specific and targeted recommendations.
This is a generational shift and the subject of much discussion in our department. Once upon a time planners partnered with GIS technicians who made maps for them. Maps were discrete end products used for display, even for the planner who used them. Today planners who use GIS as part of their toolbox are able to better understand a place and make better, more realistic, and detailed recommendations to guide communities toward a better future.
Danville Comprehensive Plan
Cape Carteret Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Ordinance Update
Smithfield Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Ordinance Update
Maintenance Management Team
From Britt M. – Maintenance Management Department Manager.
Summit’s Maintenance Management department uses what we call the 5 W’s of GIS – who, when, what, where and why – to support clients that include NCDOT, municipal entities across multiple states, infrastructure construction and private industry.
Our staff is currently assisting NCDOT by using GIS to track and report guardrail damage locations and road maintenance in the Triangle area and mountains of North Carolina. In this application the “who” is the client or the public reporting, the “when” is the date and time of an incident or repair, the “what” is what was damaged, repaired or maintained, the “where” is the location of the site which may be in latitude and longitude, or addressing, etc., and the “why” is how did the event occur or the reason for maintenance. All this information is stored in a central location in the GIS system and can be shared across multiple platforms.
This GIS data helps to improve road safety measures and optimizes maintenance/repair times.
We are also currently mapping municipal road networks, sewer/septic systems, response to snow and hurricane events, and a 500kV transmission line which will bring affordable energy to the customers it serves.
We like to think that we are bringing the benefits of GIS to help our customers and the public make better informed decisions while also providing a safer, more efficient, organized, and efficient environment.
NCDOT Monroe Expressway
City of Raleigh Pavement Preservation
NCDOT Guardrail Inspection and Repair
While GIS and the associated can produce some visually appealing maps, the application and use of GIS in the decision-making process makes this an invaluable for us as we serve our clients’ need. Leveraging technology to help us shape communities is part of who we are at Summit.