"We've united what have traditionally been two disparate technology stacks to carry out missions, evaluate policy and assess where we need to do additional work," says Jerry Johnston, EPA Geospatial Information Officer.
It has been more of an evolutionary process than an "event," Johnston explains, but there were a couple of drivers behind the marriage of the technologies at the agency. One was EPA's Environmental Information Exchange Network, an Internet-based system used by state, tribal and territorial partners to securely share environmental and health information with one another and EPA, according to Johnston.
The Environmental Protection Agency has "united what have traditionally been two disparate technology stacks to carry out missions, evaluate policy and assess where we need to do additional work," says Jerry Johnston, the EPA's geospatial information officer.
"Data from regulated industry has been coming in to EPA for years, and users naturally wanted to map much of this information," Johnston explains. "Uniting GIS with our Exchange Network has been a focus of the agency for some time."
More recently, to help manage environmental grants issued under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the need to "bring together reporting information coming in from grant recipients with our geographic information systems was critical. "
These days, the EPA blends GIS and traditional data from myriad sources to monitor water quality across U.S. with its Hydrologic Benchmark Network. States, counties, municipalities and tribal nations continuously push geographically referenced and time-stamped stream water-quality updates onto the Network. If an anomaly is detected, the EPA can immediately tell from the integrated GIS data whether the station is upstream or downstream, which other areas could be affected and how soon. Because the data is displayed on a dynamic map, problems are immediately conveyed to anyone who needs to know, leading to faster response, Johnston says.
The EPA also uses GIS-enabled analytics for its ongoing air quality index. Pairing maps with current and historical air quality data as well as temperatures and wind readings guides operational responses. As one example, because asthmatic children have more symptoms when the air quality is poor, the EPA can instantly notify local officials so they can decide whether to close schools. Something as specific as knowing if the school serves a hilly or flat region, which GIS shows, would impact where the alert is issued, Johnston says.