Plenty of government initiatives are aimed sharing information electronically, but one that’s surprisingly advanced is the effort to share geospatial information system (GIS) content across federal, state, county and city agencies. Three parts MapQuest and one part Craigslist, the Geospatial One-Stop (GOS) Portal has been operational since July 2003, and a “GOS2” facelift expected to bow in July will incorporate easier searching, a customizable portal interface and an online marketplace designed to encourage joint purchases of new GIS content.
Developed by the Department of the Interior, GOS was devised to provide faster, easier access and to minimize overlapping government purchases of GIS data for needs as diverse as transportation, agricultural and park planning, disaster recovery and environmental protection. The Office of Management and Budget fast-tracked the project in the wake of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, because it provides a central resource for crucial information on infrastructure such as bridges, tunnels, water supply systems, gas lines and power grids.
The current GOS portal (www.geodata.gov/gos) began as a Web-based card catalog where agencies at all levels of government could register metadata on the type, age and level of GIS information detail they had available. Registrations have since surpassed 75,000 metadata sets, and in the fall of 2003, the portal gained the ability to pull some 10,000 actual GIS records off servers maintained by various agencies across the country so users could create custom maps.
“When hurricanes started hitting the coast in 2003, local, state and federal agencies with information on the Southeast were frantically cataloging their data to support planning and relief efforts,” says Scott Cameron, a deputy assistant secretary at the Department of the Interior. “As a result, we could show which roads and houses in a given area would flood at five feet, which at 10 feet and where officials could turn for shelters and medical resources.”
More recently, the portal has supported hurricane recovery efforts in Florida where the state needed to coordinate debris removal, in fighting wildfires in the West and in emergency response along the flooded Delaware River. “Every major city and state has information on its own jurisdiction, but many times there are cross-boundary issues,” says Senior GOS Project Advisor Pat Cummens of GIS vendor ESRI. “If local authorities have a rescue situation, they don’t care if resources are on the Pennsylvania or New Jersey side of the river, but they can’t make the best decision if they’re not sharing information across borders.”
Although the original portal eased collaboration, it’s being upgraded because “it’s clunky,” admits Cameron. “The old portal worked fine; [but] if you were a county roads director who didn’t know anything about GIS software, it was hard to figure out.”
Awarded in February, ESRI’s new $2.4-million, five-year contract specified the use of IBM WebSphere portal technology with single-sign-on, a user-customizable interface and compatibility with database management systems from IBM, Microsoft and Oracle. A spatially enabled Google search appliance will ease and speed retrieval, and the portal will also implement open GIS data standards from the Open Geospatial Consortium to foster interoperability.
The Federal Government spends some $3 billion per year and state and local agencies $6 billion per year buying geospatial data, according to Cameron, so high hopes for ROI are placed on the portal’s Geodata Marketplace, which lets agencies share plans and hopefully funding of new GIS content.
“We haven’t figured out a way to measure what agencies didn’t spend by using the portal, but we’re providing a place where they can quickly see where multiple agencies and levels of government are interested in developing the same information,” says Cameron. He adds that the Department of the Interior is setting up liaison offices that will promote and facilitate partnerships and pooling of resources.