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by Alex Miller sustainability Finding the Right Balance Using GIS to protect the environment, improve productivity, and stimulate economic growth All of us have a common goal: a sustainable world. We want to preserve the environment, become a progressive community and improve society. These goals, which often seem to be at odds with each other, are attainable as long as we find the right balance. Municipalities can achieve this bal- ance with the help of geographic infor- mation system (GIS) technology. It is a powerful system that illuminates deci- sion making in all aspects of environ- mental, economic, and social concerns. GIS integrates large amounts of data and allows users to easily make sense of it using intelligent maps. Protecting the environment requires constant monitoring of land, water, and air conditions, as well as the human activity that impacts them. GIS is an ex- cellent system for environmental man- agement because it easily tracks and communicates change using data-driven maps, providing a sound basis for deci- sions and policies. Enlightening Policy and Improving Communication Maps tell a story better than tables and charts. Presenting environmental information in a spatial context makes it easier for policy makers and the public to understand where change is happen- ing and where action needs to be taken. Environment Canada uses GIS to conduct and present research on vari- ous concerns including climate change, weather, air quality, water, and wildlife. Previously, they developed separate web mapping systems to address each ALEX MILLER is President and Founder of Esri Canada, which provides en- terprise geographic information system (GIS) solutions. He has extensive expertise in the appli- cation of information technology to land, natural resource, and en- vironmental management. Alex is the former chairman of the Natural Resources Canada Earth Sciences Sector Advisory Committee and also chairs the environmental non-profit Planet in Focus Foundation. specific concern. To increase efficiency, they centralized their mapping sys- tems into one enterprise web mapping system. This has reduced costs and increased the speed of developing ap- plications by allowing them to re-use existing data, map, and application tem- plates, and modify them according to end users' needs. For example, they include detailed scientific data in the Canadian Environ- mental Sustainability Indicators web map used primarily by scientists and policy makers. Meanwhile, web maps geared towards the general public, such as the EcoAction Community Funding Program map, present high-level envi- ronment information. "Getting timely information into the hands of policy makers, the public, and scientists around the world is a prior- ity we've been able to meet effectively through web mapping. GIS is a key building block in our enterprise archi- tecture, and we're excited about the potential applications we can build with it in the future," says Terry Simmons, Corporate Services Branch Manager for Environment Canada. GIS has also expanded the reach of services by enabling Environment Can- ada to create web maps accessible to the blind and visually impaired. Achieving Compliance GIS helps municipalities comply with environmental legislation by en- abling them to conduct field inspections quickly and efficiently. We see this in action at Strathcona County in Alberta, where a mobile GIS and work manage- ment solution was deployed to support compliance with the new Alberta Weed Control Act, which seeks to protect the health of rural land. Under the Act, municipalities must now manage an ex- panded list of invasive plants and hand- deliver inspection notices to property owners – notices that were previously distributed by mail. Field inspectors were equipped with ruggedized tablets to access GIS data on the field, along with customized data entry forms, tools, and reporting func- tionality. Using stylus pens, they can accurately sketch polygons, edit spatial information, and send this data to their central geodatabase for instant updates. The mobile solution promotes two-way communication, enabling complaints and service calls to be directed to field inspectors. Inspectors can now also create and deliver inspection notices on site. Since they no longer need to return to the office to update data, they are able to visit more properties per day. Through a formal work tracking system, March 2012 Municipal World 17

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