National GIS Day

National GIS Day has been interesting, to say the least. As soon as I walked through the doors to Taylor Center, the tornado sirens started going off and we all had to go to the first floor.  I was starting to wonder if the show would go on when they finally released us two hours later. So if I learned nothing else from GIS day, it is that the floor to Taylor Center is very uncomfortable.

The exhibits:

Out of all the exhibits, the one about the river was my favorite. (I got a cool magnet shaped like a fish.) The presentation had a mini neighborhood set up. She put red Kool-aid mix by a chemical plant and sprayed rain with a squirt bottle, to show how the chemicals ended up in the river. Then she put green Kool-aid mix in the front yards of the houses to represent grass clippings. She made it rain, and all the grass clippings went into the river. The she put cocoa mix in the park to represent how dog poop gets washed into the river. Basically, the whole point of the exhibit was to show that having a clean river is up to us.

My next favorite was the NRCS exhibit. (They gave me free candy and a cool pen.) NRCS is the Natural Resources Conservation Service. It is a part of the United States Department of Agriculture. I like NRCS because they help landowners conserve natural resources. They work to reduce erosion, to improve water quality, to improve animal’s habitats, to improve forest conditions and to conserve soil. And all of this happens right here in Alabama! They have offices in 67 counties! My favorite thing they do is the Grassland Reserve Program. It supports plant and animal diversity and protects grasslands. I love the river, I grew up on it. So I love the Wetlands Reserve as well. The river provides a habitat for birds, fish, beavers, snakes and other wildlife. It is important and needs to be protected.

I also visited the ESRI exhibit. It talked about the software used to make the maps. It was very over my head, so I’m not going to try to explain. The name of the company is ArcGIS.

The day was hectic and off schedule, but I learned new things from new people.

The presentation:

I watched the presentation by Sarah Jones. She talked about the Virtual Alabama School Safety System: A GIS Application. The first thing Ms. Jones talked about was collaboration. She said that all of GIS is based on collaboration, and that it’s the biggest part of her job. She said that collaboration is crucial because tongs of people work together under GIS.

The purpose of the School Safety System is to bring k12 public schools into the state’s operating picture for disaster planning, response and recovery. They did this by making Virtual Alabama. This idea that was in most high school, the disaster evacuation plan was printed out and hanging on the principal’s wall. Nobody would have access to it if a disaster ever really did strike. (I’ve been there, done that. I went to Lee.)

Virtual Alabama is funded by the Department of Homeland Security and was founded after Hurricane Katrina. State, military and school officials have access to it. It was run off of the same technology as Google Maps. In the map, each county looks a little different. (You can view the map here.) The idea was that the county officials would know more than the state officials. They got their information from the county level, that was everyone would benefit because of the detail provided. When you zoom in on the map, the detail is so accurate it’s a little scary. But this is a good thing, because it helps officials find things, like firefighters and fire hydrants. Ms. Jones also demonstrated how you can use the technology to view before and after pictures. She used to April 27th tornados in Prattville as an example.

I’m glad they’re doing things to make schools safer. They public schools here in Montgomery definitely need it.

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