Why is SDI so important during the COVID-19 pandemic?

April 15, 2020 Gordon Plunkett

As the world is aware, COVID-19 has changed everything, with public health issues and virus spread reduction now at the centre of all we do. Making quick public health decisions and getting information about these decisions out to the public is paramount when it comes to “flattening the curve” of infections during this pandemic. Additionally, all types of businesses have been significantly affected by spread control measures; they also need information for informed decision making. Because the virus is spread through close personal contact, location information for cases and outbreaks is very important. Read this blog post to find out more about why location data is so very important and how spatial data infrastructure (SDI) is an essential digital tool in our arsenal in the fight against COVID-19.

Things have certainly changed over the past month and almost everyone is impacted and engulfed in the COVID-19 global pandemic. The 2019 novel coronavirus has rapidly changed so many things that we once took for granted, from our children’s education to our grandparents’ wellbeing; from our location of work to our employment status. So much is changing so rapidly that it’s become difficult for decision makers on a personal level to decide where to buy groceries, and for decision makers at a national level to decide how to address the effects of outbreaks. Directors of health care facilities need to know where they can get personal protective equipment for their front-line staff. The one factor that all these decisions have in common is location: namely, that “everything is somewhere”.

Communications, data and computing technology can be brought to bear to assist decision makers in determining what to do. However, information gathering requires an investment of time and money and requires that the appropriate data be collected. So, make sure that location and date data is included in all pandemic data collection so that this data can be more easily used, shared and exploited. Most progressive organizations already have time and location information available in their databases, so the next step is getting this spatially enabled information from one system to another system or to many other systems. This is where SDI technology is needed.

Over the past decades, many organizations have been working on implementing an information infrastructure that uses the Internet to share spatial information according to common data interchange standards and protocols. In Canada, the Canadian Geospatial Data Infrastructure (CGDI) helps define the technologies, policies and arrangements that allow spatial data sharing. When emergencies like the current pandemic occur, spatial information is critical for providing timely information to citizens, businesses and government leaders because it can help mitigate complex, shifting threats and hazards. Using location intelligence and emergency management solutions, all users can develop a deeper understanding of risks, trends and insights to help make informed decisions.

Informing the public during this pandemic is particularly important. It helps citizens understand why they need to do or not do certain activities. The directions from the various public health agencies are evidence based and developed for specific jurisdictional areas (such as neighbourhoods, cities, provinces and nations), so the information being collected, analyzed and produced is very much dependent on location. A key public education initiative is being led by the Public Health Agency of Canada, which has developed an official interactive case map and data summary containing an epidemiological summary of COVID-19 cases in Canada.

One example of data being used in service of a public education campaign is Esri Canada’s public COVID-19 Canada GIS Hub, which shares information and resources about the pandemic in Canada. Charts, graphs, provincial summaries and many additional links lead users to Canadian and international COVID-19 information.

A mitigation action taken by governments to reduce virus spread has been to limit the physical distance between individuals by closing certain businesses. For all closed businesses, their closure has widespread impacts on employees, clients and the economy. Some businesses are still open, but employees are working from home. Once again, business continuity is tremendously important and requires information for and from employees, clients and other businesses to keep the supply chain, productivity and morale up. SDI can help by giving decision makers the tools to summarize data about their operations and make the right business decisions in adapting to this “new normal”.

Example of SDI for coronavirus business continuity spatial data exchange. Managers and team leads can collect data and view dashboards and report data that will provide decision makers with information that can help them make the right decisions for their businesses during these difficult times.

The fact that many employees are now working from home or offsite presents additional challenges for keeping employees engaged, productive and safe. There are ways—like personnel status dashboards, an example of which is shown below—to collect information about employees and provide it in a dashboard for decision making.

Personnel status dashboards can be used by executives and managers to monitor workplace capacity. This tool has both data collection and display capabilities.

So, while all these changes to your work, business, family and personal life may seem daunting, it’s best to turn to the experts for trusted information. There are plenty of online COVID-19 information sites, but which ones provide the best information? Esri Canada has developed a COVID-19 Resource Library which contains useful information, videos and tools. Esri Canada will continue to update this site with additional resources as they are developed so check back often.

To keep Canadians aware of what’s available to help fight COVID-19, Esri Canada has launched a COVID-19 resource library of useful and continuously updated resources related to COVID-19. It includes links to webinar recordings, videos and blog posts.

While there is lots to do to address the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada, help is available and SDI technology is there to provide interoperability and help share information. So, make sure that when you are collecting and providing data in support of pandemic response activities that you include location and time. This helps make your data much more straightforward, informative and useful for others to use.

About the Author

Gordon Plunkett

Gordon Plunkett is the Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) Director at Esri Canada. He has more than 30 years of experience in GIS and Remote Sensing in both the public and private sectors. He currently sits as a member of the Community Map of Canada Steering Committee, GeoAlliance Canada Interim Board of Directors, the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) Technical Committee, the Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB) Committee on Geomatics, the University of Laval Convergence Network Advisory Committee and the Advisory Board to the Carleton University Geomatics and Cartographic Research Centre. During his career, Gordon has worked on projects in more than 20 countries and has contributed to numerous scientific conferences and publications. At Esri Canada, he is responsible for developing and supporting the company’s SDI vision, initiatives and outreach, including producing content for the SDI blog.

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