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7 Steps to Success To Create World-Class GIS-Based Situational Awareness Tools

     When an organization is looking to create a set of map-based (aka GIS-based) tools to improve situational awareness there are a set of steps that will vastly improve the chances that the project succeeds. Whether the tool is intended to be a Common Operating Picture (COP) or an operations toolset you will need to be careful about how you approach the project. Too many GIS-based projects start with the best of intentions but end up as failures. The following steps will improve the outcome of your GIS-based situational awareness project:

STEP 1. Determine your initial budget and scope.

What are the funding and personnel resources that you can bring to bear on the project? If you can't determine these your project is already at risk. Knowing the size of the "envelope"

Consider two main budgets - the initial development (capital expenditure) and the operational budget (operational expenditure). If you need to cut one of these, cut the capital costs - building a system that can't be maintained can be worse than not building a system at all.

Don't underestimate the operations cost of your tool. If your GIS team need to be present 24/7 along with your team you had better factor that in. This is a good indicator of how robust the solution is. If you need that kind of support you may have missed a key capability in the original development - where you should have automated some processes but didn't.

Start small. The long-term vision of your tools may be to have dozens of key features - but you need to focus on a few key features in the early days. With limited budgets you may never reach the ideal end point but if you nail the key business problems early you'll have support to keep going as your stakeholders will see the immediate and growing value of the capability that you have created.

STEP 2. Determine who your stakeholders are:

If you're starting with the GIS team as your main stakeholder you are already in trouble - don't move on because you are in the wrong place. Save the time, money, and effort for another project. Use your GIS tools as is. The GIS team is a critical resource but they provide a supporting service to improve an organization - they may be a huge player in your system but they are not likely the real lead.

The key business users are the ones that "can't spell GIS" - but they get maps and they understand the situation best when key data are presented on a map. They will also use paper maps with markers, push pins, and post-it notes - and they know that there are better ways to do this. They just don't know how to articulate it.

In emergency management your #1 user is the operations section - they are the ones that need information the most during a crisis. The Planning and Logistics sections are important too but they can use more detailed tools and work directly with the GIS team to produce the products they need. You'll need to determine which stakeholder is the #1 driver before you move on.

Consider your partners - the people and organizations that your organization works with on a day-to-day basis and when responding to crises.

STEP 3. Assess what data you have and what data you need.

Raw GIS data - do you have it in house, or is it readily available? If you don't have to own data that is a good thing, because the costs of ownership are high. Control only what you must - influence the rest.

What key information do you need to see in the GIS (alerts, key assets - all or just "exceptions"? personnel positions, social media, etc.).

What data do you need to use that isn't spatial in nature? Social media, traditional media, and other information will fall into this area. You'll need to determine how non-spatial data are presented in your tools (if they are used at all).

STEP 4. Start Small - take 1 or 2 key capabilities and build a simple viewer. Get feedback early.

Determine your main GIS toolkit (o/s, ArcGIS, other…)

Create basic capabilities to meet your user's needs.

Find a day-to-day use that makes the application worth loading every day - is it road closures? is it social media monitoring? is it weather?

Focus on the user needs, the user experience. You have the data - but how will you present it? GIS folk like attribute tables, but non-GIS folk will want the data presented in a more readable template (but they may want the attribute table view too). Keep this simple and if more detail is needed give them a way to get the raw data out.

How will users interact with the data? How will they know when new information arrives if there are real-time feeds? Will users need to regularly scan the application or will it poke them when they need to pay attention?

Find your bellwether user. This is the user that lets you know if you are succeeding. Here's a hint: don't pick the person that is super-excited about the project - they probably like any shiny object and will use any tool regardless of how useful it is and the rest of the organization knows it. When you're meeting with your stakeholders and there is an operations-focused person that is sitting back with his/her arms crossed - that's possibly your bellwether user. They are sceptical but realistic - if they see that the tool increases their ability to get their job done they will lean forward and take control - that's when you have won the battle. The rest of the organization will follow that person.

STEP 5. Train your personnel - the operators, the GIS support staff, your partners.

Different stakeholders need different training - operators need to know how to use the tool and how to accomplish their duties with it. GIS support staff need to know about the care and feeding (e.g. how do you push a brand new layer of data to the operators - they most certainly aren't going to go looking for it.) Your partners may have a very limited viewing capability so may have a much lighter training need.

STEP 6. Use the capability for a period of time - in training, in exercises, day-to-day operations, and in crisis operations.

Don't settle for a quick training session and ask users what they do/don't like - they haven't used the system enough to provide quality feedback until they have used it for real.

Observe how the system is used - what is working and what are user's doing to circumvent what seemed to be a great way to show data? These patterns will let you know where you got things right or wrong - improve the things you got right, and consider how to either improve the ones that aren't working or get rid of the capability totally.

Observe the interactions of the team that is using the tool - has the tool changed how they are operating? It should - by making information more accessible the conversations should change to be more action-oriented and pro-active as opposed to query-oriented and reactive.

STEP 7. Review what worked and what didn't - revisit the process.

Learn from the failures and successes (and expect both).

Article Source:

Darrell O'Donnell is the President of Continuum Loop Inc. He provides technology advice for our first responders, emergency managers, health officials, and corporations. Darrell is a leader in the field of situational awareness, information exchange, and identity and access management.

Posted on 2013-10-13, By: *

* Click on the author's name to view their profile and articles!!!

Note: The content of this article solely conveys the opinion of its author.

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