Archive for the ‘Port and GIS Commentary’ Category

The Importance and Future of GISP Certification

January 5, 2011

Recently, my application to become a GISP (Geographic Information Systems Professional) was accepted. It took about 8 hours to complete application process including filling out the form and compiling all the documentation. After I submitted my application, there was a fair amount of back and forth with the organization about my qualifications. In some cases, items I submitted to support my qualifications were not counted, while other items were deemed more valuable than I had expected. I am very happy the process is complete and am excited to continue my relationship with the GIS Certification Institute (GISCI).

Professional Engineers (PE) and Professional Surveyors (PS) must be certified and\or licensed to accomplish the vast majority of their work. Certifications are voluntary and managed by NCEES while licenses are mandated by law and granted by state boards. The vast majority of practitioners are certified, but the determination as to whether a license is necessary is dependent upon the severity of consequences for a poor work product. Serious injury, death or a large settlement could be the result of a Civil Engineer not adhering to best practices, while IT Network Engineers are deemed less of a risk. Generally, IT Network Engineers are certified while Civil Engineers are certified and licensed.

The GISCI has done a wonderful job of supporting and anticipating the trajectory of the GIS profession. GIS has become integral in the workflow of virtually every large organization worldwide. GIS Professionals often aren’t required to be as spatially accurate as surveying or engineering software. If a first responder is within three feet of a fire extinguisher he\she will find it, but thee feet is way outside the margin of error for most measurements required by engineers or surveyors. GIS is also designed to leverage relational databases, Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) and close integration with other complementary enterprise information technologies. GIS is interdisciplinary in a way that surveying and engineering isn’t and from a technological data integration standpoint, Engineers and Surveyors have more autonomy.

Should GIS professionals be licensed by the state? It may become appropriate as GIS continues to be used by homeland security, law enforcement, fire prevention, dispatch, federal defense and intelligence efforts and other mission critical services. The unfortunate situation below is from a recent news article titled, “Shelby County 911 district board to hire mapping expert,” and would support the argument that GIS professionals should be licensed.

“We need one base map that covers the entire county that is seamless,” said director Raymond Chiozza at a recent Shelby County Emergency Communications District 911 board meeting. “Our backs are against the wall. We have to do it now.”

In 2003, the Memphis Fire Department sent ambulances to the wrong address despite receiving the correct address three separate times from callers. Jim Wagner died later at a local hospital after it took 26 minutes for an ambulance to arrive to The Billiard Club.

Dispatchers sent an ambulance 10 miles south of the correct location to 2686 Kirby Road at Langsdale Cove — rather than to 2686 Kirby-Whitten. Memphis annexed that section of town about six months earlier. The location is a block south of Bartlett’s city limits but Bartlett did not respond.

Getting certified as a GISP was an onerous task. No one likes to be judged or to be placed in a situation where they have to prove their skills– let alone tediously filling out forms when they probably have “real” GIS work to focus on. We, as GIS professionals, should understand that these certifications will bolster our personal work prospects and raise the status of our industry. Many of our coworkers view GIS Professionals (whether certified or not) as support staff for key decision makers. We create maps while others interpret them and make decisions based upon them. Obviously this didn’t work in Shelby County. There was a disconnect between the real world, how this change affected the data, and the real-time data accuracy needs. Our industry has matured to the point where we can move beyond being solely support staff, to become spatial experts and technical system integrators. We need to understand all the variables, consequences, workflow and industry best practices which go into ensuring the type of incidents outlined above don’t happen.

I appreciate the work of the GISCI and I urge them to keep the standards for excellence in our industry high.

JustAWonderfulStory Zen


“Cartographic Clout: GOP, Democrats Vie for Redistricting Dominance” on PBS Newshour

October 21, 2010

Last night, the PBS Newshour had a great story on redistricting based on the release of Census data. The story might have been called “Top Political Operatives use GIS software and Census Data to Harness Advantage Over the Next Decade.”

It looks like ArcGIS 10, but I am not sure. Please comment if you are familiar with the software is being used.

Jurisdiction and Workflow at the Port of San Diego

May 11, 2010

The Port of San Diego is a dynamic and unconventional organization. We are an amalgam of overlapping and competing functions and priorities. In many ways we function like a moderately sized city, but without the autonomy many cities with 500 employees enjoy. In many ways we function like a private real estate management company but with a mandate, not to maximize shareholder value, but to balance economic benefits with a series of well-rounded priorities on behalf of the public. In many ways we function like a traditional Port with shipping containers and cruise terminals, but this is only part of the engine which makes the Port of San Diego function everyday. The Port of San Diego is truly a unique organization.

The uncommon workflow here at the Port provides our communications professionals with unique obstacles in educating the public about what we do and the role we play in our region as a whole. Part of their effort includes producing a series of videos, titled “Ask the Port”, where a man-in-the-street asks a question about the inner workings of the Port. Below is a video in which Irene McCormack, our Assistant Vice President for Government Relations and Communications, answers a question on the Ports jurisdiction.

The Ports GIS Team helps tie together this diverse organization. GIS, and geography, is highly interdisciplinary. The GIS Group focuses on enterprise data (data valuable across many departments) to drive a common operating picture here at the Port. We strive to set up and maintain a system where any Port employees can get answers to questions based on geography. The data in this system is “owned” or “managed” by the pertinent department. Sharing data in an easily consumable structure across the enterprise is one of our major challenges. Using maps to portray information can help overcome opaque disciple-specific jargon. We hope all employees, from an intern to our CEO, will be able to answer questions like: What are the impediments to development at this parcel? Where are our water pipes on our marine terminals? How does a proposed development impact our tenants?

Various departments break down the Port Tidelands differently. For example, our Real Estate department manages land leased to tenants, while our Engineering department focuses more of their efforts on non-leased lands, including streets, right of ways and our public parks. This makes sense considering tenants are often responsible for developments on Port Tidelands. Our Harbor Police patrol the entire Port Tidelands, including the San Diego International Airport.

Obstacles emerge when one department uses data originating in another. In true enterprise spirit, our Environmental department would like to use storm drain data from our engineering department. Unfortunately, the spatial priorities of these departments aren’t coincident. Do we use data from another source, which we don’t actively manage? Should either the Environmental or Engineering Department take ownership of this data? Maybe the GIS Group should be “owners” of the data? What resources will this require? As you can see there are real opportunities to create an integrated workflow across various departments, but formidable hurdles to overcome as we progress.

HowAmericansSeeEurope Zen

Port of San Diego Featured in ArcUser (Winter 2010)

January 27, 2010

ArcUser is the trade magazine for ESRI software users. Malcolm and I first met with the author, Karen Richardson, during the last user conference. We are very excited ESRI chose to feature our work here at the Port of San Diego. Below is the link to the article.

MyMomIsAnAwesomePhotographer Zen

The Future of GIS Collaboration in Government

September 22, 2009

At a past division meeting our newly appointed President/CEO, Charlie Wurster, talked candidly and took questions about his past experiences. He also shared why he is excited to be at the Port of San Diego and expressed his management philosophy and guiding principals. At one point during this informal meeting, Mr. Wurster explained that we have to work closely with our tenants and 5 member cities. He went on to use the following example: if we were to be working with an adjacent government agency to build a new railroad, we would want the tracks to meet properly. Then he held up his hands like two like 2 guns point toward each other and explained that it takes collaboration, clear communication, and experience to accomplish our goals; we need to work closely within our organization and with companies, groups and interests in our region.


GIS will undoubtedly play a role in this type of effort, not only in support of our Engineers, CAD Designers, Construction Inspectors, Landuse Planners and the myriad of other in-house professionals at the Port of San Diego, but also as a means to share geographic information as a business process.

We are currently implementing this approach within the port through the PortGIS Program. Our CAD designers are responsible to create, update, and manage our utilities data. This data is then shared, as a service, through GIS based websites and across the enterprise to General Services, Real Estate, Harbor Police, Marine Operations and any other Port Employee who depends on this data. Our CAD Designers are the “owners” of the utilities data. In turn, we are working with our Land Use Planning Department to collect data to share it across the enterprise in the same fashion.

Sharing GIS data in this way is a fairly new concept, but it has been embraced with enthusiasm at many federal and state agencies. Below is a video of Jack Dangermond’s recent presentation at the Gov 2.0 Summit about how this integration will streamline the way we use, view, and share GIS data. He outlines a vision of how “owners” of data can share data between agencies. As the purveyors of spatial data, whether it be lease information such as renewal dates, police dispatch data, pollution numbers and statistics, it is important we embrace this vision as we work within our organization and interact with outside entities.
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According to the U.S. Office of Management and Budget’s Federal Enterprise Architecture framework, 74 percent of government data is location based. At the state and local level the number is even higher – 80 percent – according to several organizations and publications.

Our region is a complex amalgamation of overlapping and intersecting interests. Centre City Development Corporation (CCDC), San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), California Coastal Commission and CalTrans each manage infrastructure and services. Local regulated utilities like San Diego Gas and Electric (SDGE) and Cox Communications have business interests and easements. Both the San Diego Convention Center and the San Diego County Airport Authority (SDCAA) manage tenants independently of the Port and are both undergoing their own respective land use planning efforts. Our 5 neighboring cities and the county manage parcel boundaries and tax information. And with a population of 1.3 million people, the City of San Diego manages a myriad of services, with which we work closely on a daily basis.

As GIS data services flow down from the federal and state government we will also embrace GIS Services as a method to share and collaborate. As governmental agencies, we each have a stake in managing our geographic interests in the most cost efficient and effective means possible. At the Port of San Diego we should begin with the end in mind. We should work towards Mr. Wurster’s goal of full integration so our geographic data flows seamlessly through GIS services, both between departments at the Port of San Diego and between the Port and the wide variety of agencies which effect our workflow.

Monster Milktruck! Zen
Requires this first
or just watch a video

The Port of Los Angeles GIS Request For Proposals

February 18, 2009

As San Diegans we sometimes view Los Angeles as a bigger, more pushy, older brother. We are buffered by Mexico, the Pacific Ocean, Anza-Borrego National Park and Camp Pendleton on the south, west, east and north, respectively. These buffers will keep San Diego a unique destination for residents and vacationers alike. This being said, we should do everything we can to learn from our larger neighbors.

The Port of Los Angeles (POLA) has released a Request for Proposals (RFP) for GIS Consulting Services for their Harbor Police Department. A consultant will be selected around May 2009. As you might imagine, at the Port of San Diego GIS department, we are very interested in their choices and progress. They are working hard to accomplish many goals similar to ours. Not only are we in the same industry, but we both work with similar environmental laws, financial constraints and weather which effect the state of California and our region.

For Example, both Ports are working to bring Engineering drawings into GIS to be shared with their respective Harbor Police Departments. If you are a regular reader of %scratchworkspace%, you are familiar with the Port of San Diego GIS departments work with Jerry Wallenborn from Halcrow to bring our utilities data (currently only accessible through our engineers, surveyors and architects) and project closeout PDFs to every internal computer at the Port of San Diego, including the Mobile Data Computers (MDCs) in the patrol cars.

Much of the funding for these types of endeavors comes through the Port Security Grant Program (PSGP). We are classified as a Group 2 Port, while the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach together are classified in Group 1. Under this program, they receive about 10 times the funding we do.

Before the RFP was released in December, POLA released a GIS Strategy Project, written by NorthSouth GIS LLC, which detailed specific steps to bring a world class GIS program to the POLA Port Police and POLA as a whole. This 67-page document was very well thought out and in-tune with today’s thinking in the GIS, Information Services (IS) and IT communities. This document details required skills for positions to fill, how to leverage current systems, what type of servers to purchase, software vendors to use and a myriad of other strategy implementation specifics. I found myself saying “right on” out-loud more than once while reading this document. Many of these concepts directly apply to our GIS goals at the Port of San Diego. Below are some of the quotes I circled.

From POLA Port Police GIS Strategy Project (January 2008)
Executive Summary p4
“Accurate, timely and complete geographic information improves emergency response time: The primary need for GIS within Port Police is to provide accurate and timely information to officers in the office and in the field. GIS should help answer key questions of: “Where am I?”, “How do I gain access to this facility?”, “Who is the tenant and how do I make contact?”, or “Are there hazardous materials or circumstances at this location that I should be aware of?” GIS reduces the time needed to respond to a call for service.”

Needs Assessment- Systems Integration- Software Applications p12
“GIS implementation often relies heavily on a GIS analyst to provide products (typically maps and reports) on behalf of clients, which becomes a bottleneck in operations. The judicious building of a specific software application that provides specific search query and analysis tools, coupled with customized reports and map templates, can deliver powerful capabilities directly to users. This not only removes the human bottleneck, but permits users to make many more requests than would be feasible through a human agent, and in police work this can be a crucial freedom.”

Recommendations – A Vision P14
“Successful GIS implementation at Port Police will not be possible without senior management commitment to the project, including acceptance of the proposed strategy supported by way of financial investment and commitment to the proposed organizational structure.”

Recommendations –Implementation-Create a training program p17
“While GIS implementation is focused on data, it is possible for most Port Police to “experience” GIS through other systems that consume this data, like CAD. Similarly, if most applications development is Web based, then very limited training may need to be provided.”

Recommendations-Infrastructure-Software Applications-Support COTS First, Provide Access Second, Custom Applications Last p35
“CAD/RMS and Integrated Command are examples of systems already being funded, which rely on GIS data. It would be a missed opportunity to let the vendors provide their own data, in a manner that would not benefit the broader GIS effort. Conversely, this could be an opportunity to push GIS development forward (and get funding), and also to be in the driver’s seat for the data that will be provided to those systems.”

Recommendations-Software Applications-Prioritize Applications that Benefit Most from Spatial Analysis and Integration p37
“GIS is a technology capable of managing and displaying geographic information, but also of analyzing this information and integrating it with other systems and types of information. Whilst GIS is most critical in the initial phase for supplying up-to-date data to other systems, such as CAD/RMS and Integrated Command Console, over time GIS will find utility in supplying capabilities that other systems are incapable of supplying. One of GIS’s particular strengths is in bringing together data that would be difficult or impossible to integrate, by using the spatial element of the data. It will be at this stage that GIS will gain particular visibility at Port Police – until then it may be limited to a supporting role.”

Interview Summaries w/ Director of Real Estate p61
“It is perceived there is a need for a GIS division within the Harbor Department.”

From POLA Port Police GIS Consulting Services RFP (December 2008)
Project Description-Project Goals and Objectives p8
“The Port Police desires that a number of data sources external to the Harbor Department be able to “stream” data into its GIS, and into other systems, such as the Integrated Command Console. Such data sources include a variety of vehicle, vessel, and cargo tracking systems. The Port Police seeks to leverage Services Oriented Architecture (SOA), so that the data streams are able to be “plugged into” a variety of client applications. To easily accomplish such use of these data streams, an architecture should be designed that permits different data streams types to be funneled into a uniform format that can then be consumed by any system capable of understanding such data streams.”

We have been in contact with POLA’s Project Manager for the POLA RFP. She has kept us informed of her progress and we are excited to follow, learn and collaborate.

If you would like to view these documents you can borrow the hard copy I have printed out for my files or click the links below. They have also been uploaded into our Docs Management System at the Document Numbers below.

Web 2.0 and GIS at the Port of San Diego

January 26, 2009

Web 2.0 is a vague concept described broadly as the second generation of internet based tools and capabilities which have come about since the bursting of the 2001 dot-com bubble. The term became popular after the O’Reily Media Web 2.0 conference in 2004. Below is a quick video (51 sec) where Tim O’Reilly (the founder of O’Reily Media) describes Web 2.0.

Let’s dig into his major points and apply them to examples of our daily work at the Port.
“The Network is the Platform and Users add Value”

Our real estate department and Port attorneys set up tenancy agreements with our tenants. These contracts are meant to be static. They are intended to clearly outline the rights and responsibilities that both the Port and our tenants need to adhere to for the duration of the contract. The platform for our relationship is documented on those pieces of paper.

However, in Web 2.0 we create value-added services by increasing connections within our network. For example; the primary goal of this blog is to communicate with Port Employees about GIS and how it is being implemented at the Port. This blog could be written as a paper or email newsletter, but it would really be our department communicating “to” Port Employees, not “with”. At the bottom of each blog post is a “comments”  section where anyone can add their perspective on the issues. If their comment involves a question we can respond to them. Others can read or comment on these comments also and one blog post can become a conversation, or dynamic document. This capability is not possible in the newsletter format or in the example of the lease agreements used above. The use of the network, or the connections between us, can exponentially increase the value our communication. The value-added service we achieve by implementing a dynamic format, instead of a static one, is completely dependent upon participation from the users.

OK, So how does Web 2.0 apply to GIS?
One might be inclined to think that maps are fairly static and data is replaced in regular intervals, but this is Web 1.0 thinking. Through a technique called Service Oriented Architecture (SOA), our various enterprise data management systems, primarily Documents Management, SAP and GIS, can be set up to ask and answer questions from each other. As Port employees we ask these systems questions everyday: Show me all the documents created by John Smith? What is the lease number for the Sheraton? Or how long is the runway at the airport? We can set up SAP, for example, to answer questions from other systems, enabling users, to ask questions like: What lease numbers are withing 100 feet of the Sheraton? Within these systems we are creators and managers of spatially based data. In addition, we can set up new functionality to streamline and improve the efficiency, accessibly, timeliness and accuracy of our data across the systems.

Obstacles to Engineering and GIS

September 27, 2008

Malcolm and I presented today to the Engineering department showing the beta version of the PortGIS. Integrating Engineering could easily become our most difficult challenge. The major obstacle for us is this: Engineers produce/edit geometry (AKA geographic data, linework), while other departments are focused upon producing/editing table data associated with geometry. For example, Environmental Services would like to manage their Storm Water Inspection database through GIS. Their data will be associated with a point line or polygon (geometry), but they will not be producing/editing the geometry on a regular basis.

I’d like to propose my usual “begin with the end in mind”: I keep thinking about the example of a water utilities network and a task which would ask a question like “If a particular valve is turned off, which buildings won’t get water?” Engineers would be providing us with this data, meaning they would not only need to follow CAD standards but also GIS standards. As you can see, this could quickly become more trouble than it is worth. We have hired Halcrow as a consultant to help develop a sustainable, user friendly approach to this issue. We had a meeting with JW and BW (see Docs #315612) to kickoff phase 2 of this project. They seemed open to the idea of working with ESRI products, but we are depending on them to create a sustainable integration of Engineering drawings in the PortGIS.

I planned on including directions to install the software I showed at the Engineering meeting at the end of this post. The directions ended up being detailed and long winded. Instead, I have decided to include a video, and I promise to get together clear and easy directions to follow for early next week. The PortGIS is currently down due to a server operating system upgrade. Hopefully we can get it going again first thing Monday morning.

MissleOnGE zen

A comment about security

September 22, 2008

First, I would like to give a big shoutout to the official AGX Blog for linking to us here at the Port of San Diego. The AGX team does a great job of getting clear and valuable information out to us about advances in our niche world focused on AGX and ArcGIS Server (AGS). Since their link over 170 people have clicked over to check out this blog. I mention this as a segue to discuss security. In a web 2.0 world, it is a much easier decision to close off systems and to bring everything “in-house” rather than spend the time to develop rules about what information can be shared and what can’t.

We would like keep this blog open to the public. Many other GIS departments around the world are developing similar projects, because help from peers can be invaluable. If others have already figured out a good or better way to overcome a similar goal we would like them to be part of the conversation. On the other hand, many of us deal with sensitive data that must be kept in-house. GIS has the capability of exposing this type of information. For example, here at the Port we have public and private webcam feeds. I think a discussion referencing that we have private webcams on port property is reasonable. However, we need to be careful not to expose information such as where they are located and how to access them. In these cases, a DM# to content on our internal network will be posted.

If the content posted on this blog starts to become a concern we will move it to an internal network. All comments need to be approved by Malcolm or myself. We will be mindful of this concern and will always err on the side of safety.

Some sandiegopolarbear zen.

Application of GIS Technologies in Port Facilities and Operations

September 10, 2008

From the American Society of Civil Engineers:
Application of GIS Technologies in Port Facilities and Operations Management discusses the recent advances in GIS (Geographic Information Systems) technologies for port professionals. This committee report identifies effective GIS techniques for the management of complex port and harbor infrastructure and discusses in-depth the capabilities, requirements, and limitations of available GIS applications. It also provides useful GIS database techniques and software integration tips, an overview and discussion of GIS data types and map projections, and several case studies focusing on facility and operations management.

I think most of us would much rather learn from others’ experiences than try to reinvent the wheel. I ran across this book a while ago. We shortly thereafter purchased a copy of it through the IT department. It is a very short book (82 pages) which has made the rounds through Malcolm M, Richard M, Adolfo S, and Bill H, and the engineering department has recently purchased their own copy. It is a valuable book, and I suggest everyone interested take the opportunity to flip through it. It probably has at least a few pages which deal directly with your department, and it presents GIS from a Port industry perspective. For example: Engineering may be particularly interested in different types of standards used in integrate AutoCAD and GIS, while directors of various departments might be interested in the Return On Investment (ROI) section, and Environmental might be interested in the water quality compliance case study at the Port of Virginia. Currently, I have a copy of the book if you would like to borrow it. I think Steve A has the other.

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