Patrick Trautfield

Cal Poly is hosting the sixth annual “GIS Day” today to provide students with information about GIS (Geographic Information Systems) mapping technology and its unlimited uses.

From 1 to 4:30 p.m., Cal Poly and the San Luis Obispo GIS Users Group will host exhibits on the third floor of the Robert E. Kennedy Library from 17 organizations. The presentations will provide students with the opportunity to see a number of different ways that GIS can be put to use.

GIS is a computer based mapping tool that converts location data – such as streets, buildings or terrain – into visual map layers, Cal Poly GIS coordinator Carol Schuldt said. Smart maps can then be created that permit a better understanding of a particular location.

Examples of GIS maps will also be available for viewing until Friday in the first floor lobby adjacent to the elevators.

Principal sponsors for the event include the National Geological Society, the Association of American Geographers, the University Consortium for Geographic Information Science, the United States Geological Survey, and the Library of Congress among numerous others.

“GIS Day is intended to get the public excited about geography, mapping, and especially the smart maps that can be created with GIS,” Schuldt said.

One of GIS’s most popular applications is Google Earth – a program that has mapped high resolution aerial photographs from both airplanes and satellites. It allows users to pinpoint and zoom in on virtually any part of the globe with such incredible detail that one can actually zoom in on someone’s house.

“It’s the coolest software,” Schuldt said. “GIS is a digital mapping system that allows you to see information about a geographic location, like a city or a country, in extremely accurate detail, in which you can add an unlimited amount of layers of information.”

With GIS, the base data used might be in the form of aerial photos, lines indicating roads or streams, or any other types of information such as points that indicate individual cases of a disease, or spreadsheets with demographic information – the possibilities are endless. A GIS user can then combine such data and create a map that shows relationships that were hidden or difficult to visualize before, Schuldt said.

“It’s truly an amazing new technology that can be applied to almost any field,” Schuldt said. “And it doesn’t even have to be a map of a real place. You could take a map of ‘World of Warcraft’ and use GIS to map out specific areas where important items or weapons can be found.”

In terms of real life applications, several local and state agencies including San Luis Obispo’s government have been utilizing GIS for years to help the various departments run their operations more efficiently.

“GIS is used for everyday city operations of city works as well as in special projects requiring sophisticated modeling,” said David Yun, the GIS supervisor for the city of San Luis Obispo, who will exhibit how GIS is used by the city today during GIS Day.

According to Yun, both San Luis Obispo police and fire departments depend on GIS for quick information and mapping needs. The Public Works Department uses GIS to manage trees, storm drains, and streets. The city’s biologist and natural resource manager utilize it as well to create informative maps – the list of how GIS is used by the city is very long, Yun said.

“Even the general public is being served with GIS services as they use our online maps and get information from the city about parcels or city zoning among other data,” Yun said.

Other exhibitors at GIS Day include Caltrans which not only uses the software to map out highways across California and collect traffic data, but also to take a more proactive approach in addressing road hazards.

“One of our big projects that use GIS is the monitoring of landslide zones near Big Sur along U.S. Highway 1. We are alerted instantly when a landslide occurs and by using GIS we are able to see where it happened and respond immediately,” Caltrans GIS supervisor Andy Richardson said.

Cal Poly has also become proactive in the use of the GIS and will have an exhibit displaying information about the GIS Minor Program, how the technology is used on campus, and the growing job market that is opening up for students with GIS skills.

“Basically we want to make students aware of GIS and how the market is growing for those with the technical skills as government agencies and private companies are using the technology more and more,” said agricultural engineering professor Tom Mastin.

Some of the presenters said that GIS Day is also an opportunity for students to familiarize themselves with a technology that is increasingly becoming more commonplace.

“In the future everyone will know how to use GIS, like they know how to use Word processor,” Richardson said. “It is an integral part of our lives.”

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