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Unleash the power of location to help your community's COVID-19 initiatives

If location is part of the problem, location is part of the solution. It’s our time to lean in, using geographic information knowledge and skills to help our communities fight this unprecedented situation.

The crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic reminds us that community support is crucial to our health and well-being. We are saving lives by staying at home, but many of us want to do more to help others and support our community! As GIS professionals, we can help in ways that no one else can.

We know best The Science of Where. We’ve experienced firsthand how a simple map application can boost collaboration and communicate accurately and effectively. Communities are crowdsourcing personal protective equipment (PPE), organizing free childcare for health workers, running errands for seniors and opening new food banks. Imagine how much easier it would be for them if these people could see those resources on a web map? That’s what you – or your GIS friend – can do.

Without breaking a sweat, you can engage the community to locate resources, plan and mobilize them to places most in need. Break the feeling of helplessness and bring your special skills to this special problem! I encourage you to take the opportunity to help your community see what others can’t.

These examples may inspire you.

Cut down grocery shopping trips

Finding the grocery store that has stock on everything you need isn’t easy due to backed up supply chains and ‘comfort shopping’. In the US, a crowdsourcing dashboard helps the public obtain the most current stock and COVID-19 related information of grocery stores. Maybe you can create one for your local food co-op or grocery stores, asking neighbours to help update the stockpile information after they made a trip to grocery store – where has stock on the most wanted items – toilet paper, sanitizer, diapers. It’ll help people plan their weekly grocery shopping and reduce the number of trips.

Help people find temporary work

People who have lost their jobs to the pandemic are keeping eyes open for short-term opportunities. Unbounce, a Vancouver-based software company crowdsourced a list of employers who are hiring across Canada in the pandemic. Imagine turning their tabular data of 200 rows to a web map where people can easily search for job openings in their city. For a GIS ninja, that’s a couple of hours work.

Support local businesses

Local businesses could use an extra boost to survive the economic downturn. The city of L’Assomption in Quebec rolled out an online map of their local business, encouraging community support. You could take that map application to your community scale, and phone up local business owners to self-identify ways they can be supported.

Help vulnerable groups with errands

Think about a location-enabled survey that collects people’s doctor appointments. It can match local drivers who won’t mind driving another kilometre from their grocery store and seniors with doctor’s appointment who worry about the contagion risks that comes with public transit.

Support over stretched health workers and contextualize decision making

Location brings intelligence to analysis and clarity to decision making. The City of Toronto announced four locations of emergency childcare facilities providing 24/7 services for health workers and other essential service providers. Niagara Falls is opening empty hotel rooms for exhausted health care workers. Mapping the locations and real-time capacity of these facilities would provide essential context and help people decide if and where another facility is needed.

Break your own isolation

Don’t think you can do this alone? Ever attended an Esri or Esri Canada User Conference? You may have met someone there or you may know a fellow GISer in your region. They’re probably in the same boat and looking for ideas and a working pal. Ask them to help and brainstorm together, lean on each other. Together, you can extend the impact of your projects and cross pollinate great ideas to help more people.

Here are some first steps you can take. Tune in to your community initiatives – pay attention to local news or social media. Brainstorm on how location technology can help. Gather your idea in a quick prototype and bring it to your community, post it on a local Facebook group, and email it to your MPP/MLA.

Esri is making its software available to public and private sectors fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. Don’t have a license to help with your community initiative? Contact us for assistance.

About the Author

Guan Yue is Esri Canada’s Manager of Community Outreach. She works with a wide variety of communities to learn about their evolving needs and help them see the benefits of integrating spatial thinking into solutions. Her journey with GIS started over 10 years ago when she came from China to pursue a master’s degree in Environmental Science at Dalhousie University in Halifax, where she used GIS to map traditional knowledge on urban bird habitats. She sees spatial insights as vital to better understanding businesses, organizations and more broadly, our world, but believes their value is under-recognized across sectors. Guan loves trying different food, going on hikes, exploring art events and reading to her daughter at bedtime.

Profile Photo of Guan Yue