SHERIDAN – Sheridan County celebrated Geography Awareness Week Wednesday by hosting a GIS, or Geographical Information Systems, Day at Sheridan Chamber of Commerce. GIS Coordinator Richard Immell collaborated with others from the forest service and County Planner Mark Reid to help teach the public about this resource.
“I feel like it was a success for our first time out,” Immell said. “We didn’t break any attendance records, but we had some very interested people come in to speak with us.”
The largest flow of people came during the lunch hour. Guests viewed projects done by the forest service and Reid to aid in research for their jobs, as well as sit in on Immell’s virtual tour through the county’s GIS mapping system. GIS essentially makes digital what was once on paper.
“The power [of GIS] is analysis,” Reid said.
With computerized mapping systems, algorithms are pieced together in order to create maps that show a particular type of data. GIS mapping helps create maps that include several pieces of data in order to look at one issue more fully. For example, Reid and his team created a viewshed analysis for a light tower near Story. Two sets of geographical data were layered on a computerized map in order to determine whether houses in the area of a light tower would be affected by a change from a subtle red flashing light to a constant white light. The initial information helped quickly determine the impact of the change. To build confidence in the GIS map, Reid checked several locations to ensure accuracy. Reid, calling GIS mapping a “decision-making tool,” was able to set up a visual display for county commissioners who will be making decisions on this project in December.
Google Maps is another example of a simple GIS map. When data is collected and stored to help navigate, that is considered a GIS map.
“Taking spatial and non-spatial data and manipulating it [is GIS mapping],” Immell said. Spatial is the location itself, and non-spatial is data within that location. For example, looking at the age demographics in the city of Sheridan pieces together spatial and non-spatial data to create a GIS map useful to many. While GIS mapping is being simplified for daily use, it is still a complex system.
“It’s a tool, but it’s not magic,” Immell said.
Reid also appreciates the software created by Environmental Systems Research Institute, as he used to physically layer data on a map after collecting data manually. Now, GIS mappers can create or manipulate algorithms, plug them into the ESRI software and create maps for anything that has quantifiable data.
“It’s a more interactive experience,” Immell said.
Sheridan County residents experienced the local interactive map during election season. Residents entered their address to find which precinct they lived in and where they needed to go to vote. Now, members of Sheridan County can explore the interactive map, discovering hunting areas, school districts and city limits, just to scrape the surface.