GIS remains as important as ever


What do road maps, tracking natural disasters, and the COVID-19 pandemic have in common? Location, location, location; all of these things use GIS to pinpoint important information about specific locations.

GIS stands for geographic information system, a computer-based structure that captures, stores, validates, and displays data related to features on the Earth’s surface. Over 20 years ago, Jack Dangermond, the founder and president of Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI), envisioned people collaborating and sharing how geographic information systems (GIS) affects everyone. ESRI developed the widely-used computer software that powers GIS, referred to as “the science of where.”

Jack’s vision led to the establishment of GIS Day, which was first observed in 1999. The explosion of geospatial technology since then has expanded that idea into a global event that shows how geography and the real-world applications of GIS are making a difference in business, government and society. Nov. 18 served as GIS Day in 2020.

I bet you’ve used the products of GIS, though you might not have known it. Every time you get in the car and use OnStar or your smartphone for driving directions, you’re using a digital product produced by GIS. Ever open (and try to later close) a folded Ohio highway map? That map is the cartographic product of a robust GIS system that the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) employs. This same system provides the real-time messages displayed by ODOT on I-71 to inform users of the average commute times to various points along the highway, based on traffic load/density, presence of road construction, or car accidents.

Take the California wildfires that have been in the news lately. GIS is used in natural disasters like wildfires to help agencies plan for escape routes for moving people, logistical support for replenishing supplies to firefighters, mapping the extent of the burns geographically, and predicting where the wildfires will spread next.

GIS has been particularly helpful during the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of cases per township/municipality in Delaware County has been displayed as maps to help the public understand where cases have occurred. You can view these Delaware General Health District maps at

During the pandemic, many people have sought experiences outdoors, and GIS layers dedicated to outdoor recreation brought information to recreational participants. For instance, shows where a paddler can launch a kayak on Lake Erie, the Ohio River, or inland lakes/rivers.

Many websites showcase the efforts of GIS professionals, and some of these websites include projects in our area. For instance, the Friends of the Lower Olentangy have performed a greenspace analysis to identify and prioritize lands worthy of protection/preservation. View their GIS work at

Dr. Gretchen LeBuhn said, “To do effective conservation, you need a map.” In our office, most of our employees use GIS to manage work tasks and plan/manage conservation, farmland preservation, and drainage improvement projects. Geographic information systems help explain our ever-changing world and can help decision-makers predict, plan, and manage the changes to come.

By Kim Marshall

Delaware Soil & Water Conservation District

Kim Marshall is the communication specialist for the Delaware Soil & Water Conservation District. For information, go to

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