Wednesday, May 30, 2012

GIS in Warfare Agent Detection (Part I)

True story: I was running my first project site as a young site manager for my family-owned business ( in Warsaw, Poland, when a strange sight caught my attention. A corpulent Polish machine operator (120kg+) had just decided to abandon his 45-ton excavator and was hastening  toward his supervisor's site office. Puzzled but amused by the extraordinary athletic effort by a man otherwise known for his "efficiency" at work, the reason for his sudden change in temperament was relayed to me by our Polish client: a 250 lbs relict from WWII had just surfaced. Even more disturbing to me was the resolution that was taken by our Polish colleagues: a different machine operator appeared in a matter of ca. 45 min, elegantly hoisting the explosive with his machine and dumping it onto the next sand pile, from where it was trucked off along with the other excess ground material.

On German territory, such matters are taken quite seriously. In fact, the discovery of a 1.8 ton wartime bomb in the Rhine riverbed in November 2011 triggered the immediate evacuation of ca. 45,000 people of the city Koblenz. Still today, more than 65 years after WWII, an average of 15 wartime explosives, most of them dormant aerial bombs, are discovered in Germany per day! The danger is still imminent. Accidental discovery in the course of construction works killed a roadside worker near Frankfurt in 2006 (USA Today).

A 1.8 ton RAF bomb dropped by the Royal Air Force between 1943 and 1945 was successfully defused by specialists (Source: BBC)

Thanks to detailed aerial photo documentation of bomb dropping sites before and after air raids by the Allied Forces, a vast number of dormant warfare agents could be spotted and defused by German disposal teams. This is made possible by the use of modern GIS software that allows the overlay of different photographic images (see example). However, due to the density of bombings identifying unexploded bombs in the midst of explosion craters caused by successful hits in urban areas was not always feasible (see Spiegel Online article for more info). Moreover, with many of the main dropping sites (e.g. Hamburg, Dresden) being located along waterways, analysis of aerial photographs could not spot hidden explosives in riverbeds or harbour basins.

The German government uses these aerial maps of bomb dropping sites to classify potentially dangerous regions where inactive warfare agents are still likely to be hidden. Consequently, if a new building permit is issued for a property that lies in a suspected area, the building ground has to be screened and signed free by field experts. Once an area has been scanned the results are reported to the supervising government agency in order to update its GIS database, in essence turning 'red' or potentially dangerous sites into 'green' or 'safe to build' areas.

Traffic Along the Flyway

Thousands of species of birds partake in their yearly migration, be it for weather, food, or mating. Birds may migrate short or long distances; some birds only change altitude. The path along which birds migrate is called a flyway.

In the US, there are four flyways - Atlantic (along the east coast), Mississippi (following the longest river in the US), Central (east of the Rockies), and Pacific (along the west coast).  "As a matter of fact, in the region of Panama, parts of all four flyways merge into one." [1]

Flyways over the US (Source:

Their journey is remarkable. For example, the bird with the longest non-stop migration flight of any species is the Bar-tailed Godwit. This bird has been known to fly 11,000 km from Alaska to New Zealand. Their uninterrupted journey is fueled by stored body fat. [2]

While migration is a natural instinct in birds, many species have been threatened during their migrations by humans by hunting and building structures that interfere with their breeding grounds and flyways.

To better understand our feathered friends, a website called has been busy mapping bird migratory patterns. You can even view flyways by particular species viewing what they call STEM (Spatio-Temporal Exploratory Model) maps.

Friday, May 25, 2012


During the last years many countries have been faced with different threats, such as terrorist attacks and huge natural disasters. Government may not prevent these events from occurring but they have been using GIS to minimize causalities and control difficult scenarios.

After a 25-mile thunderstorm that stalled FT. Collins, Colorado, the Cities GIS department quickly reacted by mapping the damages caused by this undesirable event. These maps where used both by the Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to facilitate their jobs. The Red Cross used the maps to allocate homeless people and building with standing water to avoid a health crisis. The FEMA used these maps to send their first relief teams to site ASAP. 

It is very important for emergency management personal to have fast, accurate and clear information when there has been a natural disaster; man made emergencies, epidemics, riots, or even terrorists attacks. Before introducing GIS, agencies relied on their manager’s intuition and experience. There was no time to analysis information. The GIS framework that is now used allows agencies and governments to coordinate and acquire essential information to minimize casualties and undesired events. GIS maps complex information making it instantly comprehensive, thing that cannot be done with text. Wireless technologies and GIS applications have also helped response teams be more efficient in their response.

Governments cannot control devastating situations but they can leverage on GIS to prevent disasters from occurring.  “An emergency that that overwhelms the ability of local resources to deal with it is termed a disaster."[1]

Not only does GIS allow an efficient response but can also prevent certain undesired events to occur. Take for example, “mapping and analyzing the relations of faults to existing infrastructure highlights areas vulnerable to earthquakes. These areas become the focus of mitigation efforts.”[1] GIS can also reduce secondary damages in natural disasters such as fires, gas leaks and water contamination that can create health issues.

Larimer County (29 different districts, cities, towns and communities), located in the north of Colorado, well known for its entrance to the Rocky Mountain National Park receives over 3 million visitors per year. This had led the county to have the Larimer County GIS center (LCGIS), which stores a variety of important spatial enabled data including important locations such as shelters, schools, fire department, police department, public facilities and others.

Due to the fact of the difficulties they used to have to report to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the LCGIS decided to create a special Emergency Response web application (Larimer Interactive Geographic Emergency Responder, {LIGER}) which would allow them to have “instant collaboration, visualize population and infrastructure vulnerabilities and visualize and manage the allocation of resources with their associated hazards.” After having come up with this new application emergency managers have quickly benefited by being able to update and manage resources as needed in any type of hazardous situation. This allows them to give fast and reliable information to the FEMA.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Mapping the Market to Create Healthy Banks

How we can use mapping the market to create healthy banks.[1]

In the midst of today’s financial turmoil, soundness of banking becomes an issue not just to people in the industry but to the public. As you probably noticed in our previous posts, Geographic Information Technology (GIS) can be applied to any business. Here I found a quite interesting case of a financial data provider that helps banks to come up with the best strategic decision using the information collected through GIS software.

SNL financial, based in Charlottesville, Virginia, provides its clients with up-to-date visual information that enables banks to do some scenario-based simulations by changing attributes that affect their strategic decisions in a speedy but easy and intuitive manner. “SNL collects, standardizes and disseminates specialized information for the banking, financial services, insurance, real estate, and energy industries through its web portal SNL Interactive or SNLi, which uses GIS software called ArcGIS to view and analyze information on a map."[2]

The following is a summary of the article, but for the full details of the story, please click here.

SNLi Mapping

With this GIS applied technology, clients can view various types of data, including street information and aerial images, and create new data, such as adding new market areas and incorporating demographic information and business data. For example, SNL’s clients can quickly visualize their branch locations against the locations of competitors to evaluate growth opportunity through M&As, pictured below.

Visualizing branch locations

Branch Analytics

Branch Analytics allows customers to quickly perform in-depth market studies, integrating bank branch deposit and demographic data. It is a powerful GIS analytics on web that helps banks to find the best solution to maintain a healthy balance sheet. With data on changes in market deposit concentration, service subscribers can easily model what-if scenarios such as what would happen if they opened new branches, offered different services, or closed underperforming sites. Branch Analytics also makes it easier for bankers to create a report and a map for presentations. And the maps update and reflect on changes in information.

Despite proclaimed accuracy of its data and success in the US, “public good” nature of their service may limit its wider use in the future. Individual financial institutions have a strong incentive to use the data SNL provides, but on the other hand, they are unwilling to share information that contribute to accuracy of SNL data but may be used against their own interests, which eventually leads to overall inaccuracy of the data. In a market where externality is strong, a public rather than private entity serves better, I think.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Never lose your pet again!

For only $0.55 a day, you can keep constant tabs on your pet with a GPS collar.

Saturday, May 12, 2012


A lot of people can never get used to the probability of going blind. Yes, indeed it can be very scary. Like you, many people are more afraid of going blind, and unfortunately many more are born blind or virtually impaired.


In most parts of the world it is very difficult for a virtually impaired person to get around outside, and that is why you do not see many of them. Many at times, the virtually impaired rely on committing previously threaded on directions to memory, rely on strangers for help, and navigate the dangerously crowded streets and sidewalks with a cane.

That fear is OVER! The technology that helps drivers get where they are going is now doing the same for the virtually impaired. The many available products like the trekker assist people with visual impairments to navigate the global environment commonly rely upon the Global Positioning System (GPS) and the Geographic Information System (GIS).

How GIS works is, with spatial information it is often presented in the form of maps that viewers actively explore to learn about an area. People who cannot see cannot share the benefits of such a visual representation, and have traditionally relied on audio descriptions, tactile maps, guidance from others, and even trial and error when learning the layout of a region.(1)

GIS is a powerful tool to help record, analyze and map spatial data, which as a visual technology provides spatial analysis and maps for the visually impaired and blind.

A GIS map not only of every road, but also of every manhole cover, storm drain, road sign, telephone or power pole, fire hydrant, walkway, sidewalk crack, and much more. Think of how useful it would be to a blind traveler to know that not only is a telephone pole just ahead on the right, but there could be a large crack in the sidewalk that may not have been repaired yet. (2)

What brings together existing geographical information system (GIS) resources with currently available computer-controlled embossing technologies to yield a revolutionary tool with significant implications for education, orientation, and mobility of blind and visually impaired travelers is what is called the TMAP.

Well, TMAP is Tactile Map Automated Production that uses free GIS data and off-the-shelf embossing technology to allow blind people to download and emboss customized tactile street maps of any location in the US. (3)

These specialize maps are mapped out by a science called cartography and is used in developing color-blind friendly maps.


To read more on cartography and the power of mapping, click here to understand in depth the spatial phenomenon on mapping.

Friday, May 4, 2012

GIS Applications in Energy Industries

The unstoppable demand as well as the continuous site discoveries has made it extremely necessary for the energy corporations to have an effective reliable mapping system for the energy and mining sources around the planet. Such mapping help the energy enterprises manage different aspects of their business such as logistics, energy saving, planning, engineering, etc., to achieve higher process efficiencies.

GIS in Oil & Gas industry

Role of GIS in petroleum industry

For oil companies, it is necessary to count on reliable exploration systems to discover new oil sources ahead of competitors. In these days, among the main systems types used are GIS based systems.

GIS systems advantage arises form their ability to relate information captured by different collection methods, such as satellite imagery, aerial photo mosaics, surface geological studies, etc., to actual locations on interactive maps, which helps to perform further analyses to evaluate further potential [1].

Petroleum companies nowadays have the advantage of access to such technology, which enables them to manage the main aspect of their industry including, leases, facilities, pipelines, etc. They are also able to effectively integrate such a management system with the various technical analyses held across the whole enterprise.

Natural Gas pipelines

Apart from the GIS role in exploration of the potential sources of oil and gas, it now plays important roles in other processes down the line. For example; a current popular application is the design and management of the Natural Gas pipelines.

As the population counts rise, the cities become larger everyday. This makes the process of implementing the infrastructures even more complicated. One of the main infrastructure parts is the natural gas pipeline [2]. Now, GIS systems are used to design, plan, implement the new gas pipelines. Afterwards, the GIS systems are used to manage the pipelines including maintenance planning, logistical planning, emergency preparedness, etc. [3]

Disaster Management

The oil and gas industry is very sensitive to the changes in production rates around the world since the price can change due to the slightest decrease in the supply and consequently affect the entire global economy.

This is why there was a need to establish reliable disaster management systems that can help reduce the losses in case of disasters.

In response to that need, GIS based systems were developed to help the oil and gas corporations to asses the risks of natural disasters such as hurricanes, or other disasters such as oil spills [1]. Such systems help the companies and governments to build their plans to overcome the crises and minimize the losses.

The figure below shows the oil production in relationship to the path of the Hurricane Katrina [1].

Oil production in relationship to the path of Hurricane Katrina

GIS in renewable energy

In response to the high rates of consumption of conventional energy resources such as oil and gas as well as continuous rise in global awareness towards the environmental protection initiatives, the need for alternative renewable energy resources emerged.

GIS systems have proven to be very useful to the renewable energy industry since it helps locate and utilize the renewable energy resources’ sites.

The main use of GIS in this particular field is to predict, to high levels of accuracy, the potential areas for high wind energy sources and the best sites for placing the wind farms and their optimum distribution. Even after installation GIS systems help manage and maintain the wind energy networks.

GIS systems can also use the above-mentioned predictions to analyze the cost effectiveness of wind farms, which saves the investor companies a huge amount of work and money to actually perform the analysis on site. [1]
Similarly to the case of wind energy, GIS can be used to map the possible investments in solar energy units. Solar energy is the most popular and of the most wasted energy forms in the world and if utilized could be a strong competitor to fossil fuels.

The GIS based systems can help experts predict the solar radiation and required design aspects to build the cells and plant them in the right positions as well as also identifying the most efficient sites for solar cells’ investments. [1]

GIS can also be utilized in industries that include other forms of renewable energy such as biomass energy or geothermal energy.