Geospatial Technologies at the New York State Museum

While in and out of Albany for nearly 34 years as part of public service, I’ve been on and around the Empire State Plaza probably close to 100 times, if not more.  At the western end of the plaza is the Cultural Education Center (CEC) which operates under the auspices of the State Education Department.  The CEC houses the State Museum, State Library, and the State Archives.  Back in the day, when the State Archives was known as the State Archives and Records Adminstration (SARA), the statewide GIS community had a much closer association with the CEC when SARA was an early source of funding for GIS implementation and hardcopy conversion grants.  Over the years, these GIS centric funding sources, which are still administered through the  LOCAL GOVERNMENT RECORDS MANAGEMENT IMPROVEMENT FUND (LGRMIF) have become much more limited as program criteria and focus has changed significantly.  More recently, it was a discussion with Susan Winchell-Sweeney in the Anthropology Department at the State Museum which became the genesis of this article learning more about the expanding use of geospatial technologies in different program areas within the Museum.  (Note:  As part of this article, certain maps, due primarily to size, are available via Google Drive.  These documents are referenced in the appropriate location in the article and can be accessed via a hyperlink.)

New York State Geological Survey (NYSGS)

From its beginning in 1836, the New York State Museum has been home to some of the nation’s leading scientists, including pioneers in archaeology, paleontology, ethnology, and botany. Its collections now rank among the finest in many fields and total more than sixteen million specimens, objects, and artifacts.  A long time contributor to statewide mapping,  the State Museum is home to the New York Geological Survey (NYSGS) which produces GIS datasets and  map & charts products.  The Survey has a broad mission of geologic research, investigation, and mapping across the Empire State and is committed to making the resulting geologic knowledge of their work readily and publically available.

First introduced in 1960, the Maps & Charts series combines large format graphics with associated text with emphasis on the graphic in lieu of descriptive text. The primary purpose of the series is to document surface and subsurface geologic data that are difficult to present in other formats. Many geologic maps are published in this series. Since 2006 geologic mapping at the New York State Museum has benefitted from cooperative federal partnerships mainly through the U.S Geological Survey.  Traditional geologic mapping has been enhanced by technological developments such high resolution LIDAR terrain models. Many products contain both a surface map of geologic formations and materials as well as subsurface geologic cross sections. NYSGS also maintains a limited number of GIS datasets (shapefiles) which can be found on their website including Bedrock and Surficial geology, statewide Physiographic Provinces map, and Brittle Structures of New York.

Illustrative of the many outstanding hard copy map products available from NYSGS, this Moravia Quadrangle surficial geology update documents existing environmental and landscape conditions, as well as field data collection efforts in producing the map. Great content for an online StoryMap! (Google Drive: #1MoraviaQuad)

Using AutoCAD

One of the more interesting elements of my interviews and discussion with Museum staff as part of this article was learning how CADD (yes, as in Computer Aided Design and Drafting) is used among professional staff.  While the GIS community routinely recognizes and acknowledges the contribution of CAD community in the broad geospatial effort, its use on a day-to-day use is often innocuous.  All the more interesting a find on the desktop in the State Museum.

In this user space at the Museum is Heather Clark, who is a  drafter and Principal Investigator with the Cultural Resource Survey Progarm (CRSP).  She works extensively with AutoCAD as part of aiding interpretations at archeological sites.   And it should come as no surprise that much of her work – and the CRSP program as a whole – comes from conducting archeological and historical district studies as part of New York State Dept. of Transportation projects.  Though she also works on projects with Dept. of Conservation, Office of General Services, Dept. of Corrections, and Canal Corps.

Heather focuses on making project maps for archaeological crews to take out in the field prior to digging a project.  Sometimes the maps include DOT provided georeferenced base maps or AutoCAD generated files.  She’ll also often make maps from scratch from “heads-up” digitizing from orthophotos.  Project principal investigators provide pertinent information regarding testing locations and site information (both historic and prehistoric archaeological sites) from the field work which she adds to the maps for their final reports.  She also makes thematic maps (soil maps, density maps, contour maps) depending on the principal investigator’s needs, as well as maps for  architectural historians identifying historical districts and National Register Eligible structures.  Recently CRSP staff have been doing a more thorough geophysical survey using both  Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) and  Magnetic Susceptibility Meter instruments.  (As part of this article I was able to share with CRPS staff how the AutoCAD client is capable of consuming map services.  Many of the planimetric features Heather uses in creating map products for field crews – at least within the Westchester County footprint – are made available in map services published by Westchester County GIS.)

Heather started working at the Museum in 2005.  She received her Bachelors and Masters Degrees in Anthropology at the University at Albany and recently completed a graduate certificate in Geospatial Intelligence at Penn State.  CRSP staff often have the opportunity to engage in independent research.  In this regard, Heather notes “My work here at the Museum has developed from my love of New York State history, particularly domestic sites and activity from colonization to the early historic period. Additionally, I am interested in the faunal analysis of archaeological sites as a tool to learn about food consumption practices and site use.”    Heather can be reached at heather.clark@nysed.gov.

AutoCAD generated file highlighting project limits, waterways, edge of pavement, guard rails, wetland areas and other features.

In the same project area, to determine if there may be an archaeologically significant sites, CRSP staff systematically tests the area with circular 40 cm round pits to identify soils and associative artifacts for each soil stratum (orange annotation.)

Archaeology Projects

Archaeology is concerned with the spatial relationships of materials and features, and the recording and visualizing of these finds and their locations is an important aspect of the archaeological process. In curatorial research conducted by the Anthropology Department, geographic information systems and mapping techniques are utilized during the various phases of excavation and analysis.  Instrumental in expanding the use of geospatial technology in the Anthropology Department has been Historical Archaeological Technician, Susan Winchell-Sweeney.

Prior to her work with the Museum, Susan, who has a  BS degree in Archaeology and Soil Science and a professional certification in GIS (GISP),  worked in several archaeology and GIS capacities at Bard College.  She also collaborated with the State Museum’s  archaeological staff on a research project in the Southern Adirondacks and did an undergraduate internship in the 1990s learning how to use ArcINFO on a Unix Workstation making surficial and bedrock maps under the direction of Dave Gerhard.

Upon her arrival at the Museum as a full-time employee in 2007, Susan began using ArcMap GIS software in the management of the South Street Seaport Museum historical archaeological collection. This collection from New York City resulted from some of the largest professionally conducted urban excavations in North America. Spanning over 300 years of Manhattan history, the two million artifacts constitute the greatest extant collection of archaeological materials from 17th-century Dutch New Amsterdam and includes remains from 18th-century English Colonial and early 19th-century American Republic periods as well. Now under the stewardship of the New York State Museum in Albany, the collection is undergoing extensive processing so that it may be utilized for archaeological and historical research. While this preparation is underway (a task likely to take more than ten years to complete), GIS  aids in inventory management, and provides context for the original buried artifact sites. An exhibit mounted in 2009 entitled, “Where Did They Come From, and Where Are They Now? The Artifacts of the South Street Seaport Museum,” highlighted this use, and originated as a poster presented at the 2007 NYS GIS conference in Albany.  (Google Drive: #2SouthStreetSeaport)

Other representative geospatial efforts by Susan as part of her work with archaeological efforts at the Museum include:

Deuel Family Cemetery
Washington County, New York

Both CRSP and Anthropology staff initiated a geophysical survey at the Deuel Family Cemetery under the direction of the bioarchaeologist, Lisa Anderson. She was contacted after the accidental discovery of skeleton remains from an unmapped historic cemetery,  and asked to determine if other unmarked graves might exist.  As part of this work, both GPR and MS technologies were deployed.  Magnetic susceptibility (MS) is another geophysical technique becoming increasing more popular for archaeological investigations in the US (it’s been around for quite a while in Europe). In very simple terms, an MS meter measures how “magnetizable” soil is, which can be a marker of past human activity. The anomalies seen in the project map (the darkest areas) are likely grave shaft locations consistent with less compacted soil, organic material, and perhaps iron coffin hardware which could account for higher MS readings. Because different geophysical techniques measure different properties, it is often useful to use more than one on an archaeological site. The green circles on this map indicate areas where both MS and ground-penetrating radar (GPR) identified anomalies.   The MS survey interval necessary to pick up something the size of an historic grave shaft requires taking a reading every 25 cm, along transects only half a meter apart  which is extremely time-consuming.  At this project site, Museum staff had only two days to collect data.  (Google Drive: #3DeuelFamilyCemetery)   

The Hurley Site
Esopus River Valley, New York

This project was created to support the research of Dr. John Hart, which focuses “primarily on the histories of maize, bean, and squash in New York and the greater Northeast and the interactions of human populations with these crops.” His work has essentially pushed back the dates of the beginning of agriculture in the Northeast (a sometimes hotly debated topic in archaeology). The Hurley site, located in the Esopus Creek valley of eastern New York, was excavated in the 1950s and 60s. The collection is now curated by the New York State Museum. The GIS map and database were produced from hand-drawn, decades-old field notes (Susan digitized the pits and features; Dr. Hart created a spreadsheet with over twenty fields defining pit characteristics – this was then joined to the digitized features, allowing for a myriad of queries and visual representations.) (Google Drive: #4HurleySite

Evidence from the Hurley site including 439 deep pits, some with massive deposits of maize kernels, and human dental pathologies suggest that maize-based agriculture was a significant component of early subsistence systems. The Hurley site adds to the State’s understanding of the diversity of subsistence practices in historical Algonquian territories prior to European incursions.

Van Schaick Mansion Cemetery
Cohoes, New York

In 2016, the New York State Museum in collaboration with the Horsley Archeological Prospection completed a Ground Pentrating Radar survey of the Van Schaick Mansion Cemetery to determine if unmarked graves could be identified.  Commissioned by The Chapter House for Gen. Peter Gansevoort Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (who own the property) final interpretation and survey results shown in this map were completed in early 2017. This a multi-year project looking at a wide range of historical items and trends at the property.  (Google Drive:  #5VanSchaickCemetery)

GIS Analysis to Model Paleoindian Pathways
Northeastern United States

Finally, in collaboration with University of Montreal researchers and curator of archaeology, Dr. Jonathan Lothrop, Susan’s 2017 NYS GeoCon poster highlighted the use of GIS software in calculating the estimated Least Cost Path (LCP) of Paleoindian Pathways throughout the Northeast in search of and harvesting  Normanskill chert as part of toolstone acquisition. This is an awesome hardcopy cartographic product.  (Google Drive: #6NYS2017GeoCon)

Contact Susan @ susan.winchell-sweeney@nysed.gov for more information on the use of geospatial technology in archaeology at the State Museum.

Uses of Lidar

Advancements and use of lidar technology is having a profound impact on mapping and research by scientists in the Museum.  Bare earth models allow staff to visualize the landscape in unprecedented resolution and provide the ability to identify previously unrecognized glacial landforms which is useful in both surficial and bedrock mapping as well as for archeological exploration.   Early elevation models were constructed from grids that used 30 meter by 30 meter cells and then  later models used 10 meter by 10 meter cells. In comparison state of the art LIDAR produces much finer resolution grid cells.  Such resolution enables researchers to target certain glacial landforms or specific archeological sites for further investigation.

Examples of bare earth comparisons between LIDAR images at A) 30M, B) 10M, and C) 2M resolution.

Lidar is also useful for museum archaeologists who are sometimes called upon to investigate “discoveries” of historic sites by well-meaning members of the public  By example, there was a request  by a local conservation group in the Catskills to answer a question about “monumental and extraordinary stone structures built by an ancient race for ceremonial purposes – celestial alignment, etc.”.  And having access to good lidar data for the particular area in question helped staff to determine that the features in fact were ordinary stone walls marking property boundaries – older yes, but not ancient or mysterious.

Area reported to contain “monumental and extraordinary stone structures in celestial alignment – perhaps built by an ancient race for ceremonial purposes.”

Lidar data reveals “unique features” are really no more than normal stone walls marking former property boundaries.

Coincidentally, during the preparation of this article, lidar was highlighted in what’s being hailed as a “major breakthrough” in Maya archaeology.   Researchers, which included Thomas Garrison, assistant professor of anthropology at Ithaca College, have recently identified the ruins of more than 60,000 houses, palaces, elevated highways, and other human-made features that have been hidden for centuries under the jungles of northern Guatemala.  The Lidar survey of 2,100-square kilometers encompassed several major Maya sites, including the largest at Tikal, and El Zotz, where Garrison focuses his research.

Laser scans revealed more than 60,000 previously unknown Maya structures that were part of a vast network of cities, fortifications, farms, and highways.

Summary

The above language and maps only begin to highlight the broad use of geospatial technology in the New York State Museum.  While presentations by Museum staff are occasionally made at the state conferences, their work and products are often published in technical and scientific publications as well.   It’s a well seasoned group of GIS professionals.  In addition to the geospatial programs reviewed as part of this article, the State Museum also is home to the State Committee on Geographic Names which advises the United States Board on Geographic Names on issues relating to place names in New York and the Empire State Organized Geologic Information System (ESOGIS) which provides information all of New York’s 42,000+ deep wells and thousands of shallow wells.

For more detailed information, visit the Research and Collections on the State Museum website.

The author acknowledges contributions from State Museum staff Susan Winchell-Sweeney, Heather Clark, and David Gerhard for their contributions to this article.

Views on the 2018 New York State Geospatial Landscape

There’s probably enough below for a couple blog posts but I ended up throwing everything in together and stirring it up – so to speak.  The language on Part 189 (tax mapping) could be a post by itself.  Kind of all over the place, even revisiting some topics I’ve touched on before as part of eSpatiallyNewYork.  Part wish list and part commentary.  Ten items. More or less.

  1. Promoting NYS Local and Regional Government GIS Development:  This is a frequent mantra of mine and with the  constant advancements in computing and geospatial technologies it’s worth considering on a regular basis.   And most certainly as part of this year’s wish list. Opportunities abound across the Empire State to help local and regional governments  jumpstart and/or solidify their GIS program.   For example, funding is available through the NYS Environmental Facilities Corporation focusing on infrastructure systems much of which is managed at the local level.  Or the large amounts of funding being made available as part of Zombie Remediation and Prevention Initiative through the NYS Office of the Attorney Genera  And the detailed inter-government discussions on the new Shared Services Initiative  which includes funding as part of the adopted FY2018 state budget.  GIS is the shared services technology. And regional GIS programs as part of the New York State Regional Economic Development Councils or by extension the New York State Economic Development Council?   GIS tools are at the foundation of economic development.   Not perfect fits,  but funding opportunities do exist in these program areas.

At the core of local and regional GIS programs is powerful server technology (local and hosted) that not only has the capabilities to support multi-government day-to-day business functions  but also provides the framework to publish geospatial content via map services.  Call it what you want Open Data, government transparency, or data sharing  but it is within this context that state agencies, nonprofits, academia, as well as  business and industry all have access to local data.  Let’s have 2018 statewide focused discussions on extending local and regional GIS capacity based on cost effective and server-based multi-government initiatives.

  1. Building GIS Association Legislative Capacity: While the Association has grown in so many positive ways over the past decade, the challenge continues for the organization to have its presence and mission heard in Albany’s governing hallways.  It is no small effort – organizationally and financially  to build this capacity.  Many similar professional organizations have full-time staff and Executive Directors whose job is to create awareness among elected officials, secure funding, and promote/influence legislation on behalf of the membership.    But currently the Association’s legislative efforts are in the hands of member volunteers.  And while Legislative Committee volunteers were able to coordinate a “Map Day” last May in Albany to introduce the Association to elected officials, the Association has yet to establish itself on the same playing field of recognition with other statewide geospatial heavyweights such as the New York State Society of Professional Engineering, New York State E911 Coordinators, and the lobbying efforts of large New York State based geospatial businesses.  Complicating the equation are Association members who hold licenses or certifications in other professions (i.e, engineering, surveying, photogrammetry, landscape architecture, AICP,  etc) and find themselves in a quandary as to support the Association’s agenda or the profession/discipline which holds their license.  To some degree, this issue manifest itself as part of the discussion with the Geospatial Data Act of 2017 which initially had lines of support drawn heavily along professional affiliation.  The Association must keep up the good effort and find a way to compete on the Albany stage.  Let’s hope the Legislative Committee can build upon its 2017 accomplishments and make further inroads in 2018.
  1. New York State Geospatial Data Act of 2018:   Not really,  but it DOES sounds great – right?   Close our eyes and make believe there is a state-equivalent of the much hyped (Albany) federal National Geospatial Data Act (NGDA) of 2017.   Just think of it:   A process across the Empire State in place to magically aggregate our local government tax-payer funded geospatial data assets into National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI).  Newly appointed and designated state agencies responsible for providing support (similar to the designated federal agencies)  to make our geospatial contributions consistent with the federal data themes and standards as outlined in Section 6 and 7 of the proposed NGDA legislation.  Ultimately being made available via the GeoPlatform.   

Granted many national geospatial organizations now support the legislation (having changed their position on the Act since it was first introduced now that language was dropped focusing on data procurement)  but the fact of the matter is that little case has been made as to how, what, or why the NGDA means to local governments here in New York State.     Federal agencies have little capacity or interest to consume and integrate large-scale data assets developed at the local level. Thus, yup, leaving  this on some level to state government intervention.   Perhaps locals can bypass it all and just contribute directly to the GeoPlatform.

Of course, NGDA 2017 is “feel good” – we’re all on board to support broad GIS/geospatial ideals and concepts.  And I do at a high level, but there is still a huge disconnect – financially and pragmatically – how  our local investments are integrated and made available as part of the  17 designated National Geospatial Data Assets.  The justification really hasn’t been made.  And addresses were the last federal data theme added in August 2016?

So wish #3 is for a New York State Geospatial Data Act of 2018 to provide a framework (no pun intended, of course) so the statewide community can contribute to the goals of the NGDA!

  1. Increased Engagement with Other Professions and Organizations: It was good to see the New York State Association of Professional Land Surveyors (NYAPLS) exhibit at the state GIS Conference in Lake Placid last October.  And while there were other vendors representing additional trades and industries, overall attendance was very homogenous with well over half of the attendees from government and academia with the later being over represented with students and numerous single-day attendees.  Though it’s no surprise government attendees represented a majority of the registrants – mirroring the GIS Association’s membership profile – it is worth taking note of the limited representation of other relevant professions engaged in geospatial technology across the Empire State such as assessors, utilities, fleet management systems, economic development, K-12 programs, local police and fire department programs. Also the almost complete absence of public health and human services personnel and/or presentations and increasingly one of my geospatial pet peeves given the enormity of health and human services budgets in New York State county governments.    While above attendee data may not be exactly right (albeit I am working from the published 2017 NYGeoCon Attendee Roster)  it does paint a picture of the statewide GIS community still struggling to uniquely differentiate itself from other professional organizations which are continuing to build their own geospatial networks and agendas.   Furthermore, the attendee list does not include any staff from the New York legislature (senate or assembly), New York State Association of Counties (NYSAC), New York Association of Towns, New York Conference of Mayors and Municipal Officials or any professional organization front office.  Here’s to the cup being half full and hoping and wishing for increased outreach and connections in 2018 to Empire State technical, scientific, professional and administrative organizations.
  1. Geospatial Advisory Committee (GAC): My therapist told me not to go here.  So I won’t.
  1. Revisiting Part 189: There are very few of us still around in New York State GIS community that know the Office of Real Property Services (now Office of Real Property Tax Services) was in ESRI’s first group of clients.  If I remember correctly within the first 50 worldwide.  And host to one of the state’s first GIS meetings in the mid-1980s when their offices were at 16 Sheridan Ave. downtown Albany.   How the Empire State GIS landscape might be different today had this state office developed the political support and vision (it certainly had excellent technical GIS resources) to champion cadastral and tax mapping reform as digital cartography and mapping matured in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.  Laying the groundwork to usher in local government tax mapping into the digital age.  But it was not meant to be.   A slow demise over many years, the excellent GIS presence in ORPS eventually eroded and became essentially non-existent.  Back in the day tax map reform was also frequently discussed as part of the Coordinating Body and the Cadastral Working Group.   During this time period, the concept of making changes to the New York State tax mapping requirements was referred to generically as “changes to Part 189”.

 New York State tax maps today are still governed by  the Assessment Improvement Law (Laws of 1970, Chapter 957) requiring local governments to prepare and maintain tax maps in accordance with standards established by the State Board of Equalization and Assessment.  This same law prescribes that the State Board shall also develop rules and regulations (9 NYCRR Part 189) for the preparation and maintenance of these tax maps and assigns important duties to the municipalities in New York State related to tax map preparation and maintenance.  New York State still has a hardcopy tax map standard and regulation.  Nothing digital.   No statewide digital tax map maintenance (or reporting) requirements – though nearly all counties maintain the tax parcel geometry in digital format.     And while the state GPO continues to try and  assemble a statewide parcel dataset,  its more than likely never going to happen unless digital maintenance and reporting standards are institutionalized.  Kudos to the counties which make digital data available as part of the state program but at the same time other counties have every right to continue to do as they chose.  Furthermore,  it’s my bet, based on the current NYS laws and regulations,  the collective statewide assessor community isn’t going to feel any overwhelming commitment any time soon to contribute to and help build a statewide digital tax parcel database.  There is simply no incentive.

But it just so happens it might be a good time to revisit the Part 189 doctrine.  ORPTS is in the process of a massive overhaul of its flagship RPS software and along with this there may be a willingness to start the discussion.  Maybe not.  But it seems if there was a time to try and put in motion an effort to change this nearly 50-year old law it could be now.  Additionally the ranks of the statewide assessors has changed significantly over the past decade bringing with it a much better understanding of the benefits of managing and publishing digital data.  Of course there will be no buy-in by County assessors if the change is perceived as a means to require digital tax parcel submission to the state.  Such a concept would be DOA.  But instead, a new digital standard that would still leave counties independent (as they do today and very much reflected in the statewide tax parcel availability map) to make  their data available where and how as they wish.  And also along the way of reengineering Part 189, there is an opportunity to further educate and demonstrate to the assessor community the benefits of web map services.  Advocating counties to publish their digital tax parcel data as a service which many NYS counties now have the capacity to do so.  A statewide framework of county web map services is much more efficient than the current effort and has the added benefit of driving consumers to county web portals for more local data and added web service metrics.

Tax parcel data is no doubt very valuable and important to both government and business and there is no better way than to publish the tax parcel data than via web map services.   And the decade old 2008 Statewide Strategic Plan priority of building a statewide tax parcel neither resonates nor makes the business case for County governments to simply buy-in.  There are lots of hurdles, but here is to the concept the Part 189 issue can be revisited on neutral grounds in 2018 for the benefit of all digital tax parcel consumers. 

  1. Embrace the Outliers: A Google search defines an outlier as “a person or thing situated away or detached from the main body or system.”  And there are lots of GIS outliers across the Empire State.  Used to be as GIS technology was evolving the user community almost had to attend conferences and user group meetings to follow the state-of-the-art.  To meet hardware and software vendors and see/test drive the latest advancements.   But not anymore.  2018 is all about Do-it-Yourself (DIY) GIS.  Individuals, civic geohackers, and start-ups outside the mainstream.  Leveraging online products, data, and systems to do it themselves and go alone.  Lots of open source, social media to broadcast their efforts and working contracts with organizations which often do not have the resources to work with the larger GIS firms. By example, Meetups are increasingly a space where one can find geospatial outliers across the state.  There all kinds of Meetups in the GIS/geospatial space:  GIS, drones, open data/open source, data visualization, AutoCAD, and the list goes on.  It is in these gatherings where you’ll often hear a completely different type of GIS discussion.  People asking “why” and “how” and “who” in contexts one probably does not hear in the GIS mainstream.  A completely different viewpoint and rational.  Refreshingly off from the normal GIS speak and think.   Exactly what the New York State GIS landscape can use.  Still not convinced?  Find a NYS hackathon coming close to you soon.  Make it a commitment to attend a geospatial meeting in 2018 in a space or venue that is different.  Not the norm.  A one-off.  You won’t be disappointed.
  1. 2018 GISP Certification Survey: You know its coming.  Trolling  the New York State GIS listservs soon. Same as last year. And the year before that. And the year before that.   Reminding me of a favorite Beatles song Eleanor Rigby:  “Father McKenzie, writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear…..”.  The 2018 remix “…….collecting data for a presentation that ……”.  Unless survey sponsors want to deploy its SWAT team to meet with the various New York State licensing authorities to discuss the requirements and worthiness of GISP being recognized as one of the Occupations Licensed or Certified by New York State, just assume the whole discussion is off the grid in the Empire State.  The last GISP Certification requirement/benefit I saw was for a job posting in Boise.   Just change the date from last year’s GISP Certification survey and reuse the 2017 results. Or 2016.
  1. Free Form GIS: Along the think of the GIS outliers, New York State is home to several academic institutions with cutting-edge computer science programs. SUNY includes several such as the  nationally recognized program at Stony Brook while Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) programs have long been recognized for their research and development into computer graphics, gaming, data visualization, and imaging.   And don’t forget the S. Military Academy at West Point.  And less we forget the influence of the Center for Technology in Governement (CTG) at SUNY Albany that played in shaping some of our founding  statewide studies and documents.  

For a bunch of reasons (availability of data, cost of software, training, business needs, available staffing, etc) statewide government programs have been slow on the uptake in building 3D (both indoor and outdoor) and data visualization models and here’s to the idea the GIS community reach out to these various institutions of higher education and give us a hand in this space.   Maybe the Association sponsor a  regional meeting and a GIS hackathon at the same place.  Throw in some planimetrics and elevation data, parcels, demographics, environmental datasets, buildings and interiors, and the kitchen sink and see what comes out the other end.  Run the data through software programs we normally don’t use on a day-to-day basis and visualize geospatial in a completely different view.  Proprietary or open source – doesn’t matter.  And plenty for each of us to take back to the office knowing more of what is possible outside of the box we normally work in.  Make it happen in 2018 –  it will be worth the price of admission.

  1. Some of the Rest: Drones – uber cool stuff having a huge impact on the geospatial industry albeit I’d submit an Association-type sponsored webinar involving government attorneys would be helpful (county and city?) providing an overview of the current/know legal issues of drone use and development;  GIS Strategic Plan – this was my “Oh, no” moment at Lake Placid when I heard GAC was reviewing a Strategic Plan.    Certainly they were not making reference to the now decade old 2008 Statewide GIS Strategic Plan?   But probably something better.   An updated GIS Strategic Plan framed by and for the State GIS Program Office and rubber stamped by GAC.  Apply a little lipstick and take it on the road as the 2018 Statewide GIS Strategic Plan.   Can’t wait;  Woodstock 2019 – who is in charge of the exploratory committee looking into having the 2019 State GIS Conference to coincide with the 50th Anniversary of the Woodstock festival in Bethel, NY?   Count me in on the committee as planning for this needs to start this year!  Statewide geospatial data portals – so which one now:  NYS GIS Clearinghouse,   Open Data NY, or the GeoPlatform?

Much, much more going on statewide and I’m just scratching the surface.  Most importantly in 2018 let’s subvert the dominant and existing NYS GIS paradigm and begin to set a new agenda.

Retail Trade Geospatial Mapping and Analysis

There is no secret of the increasing use of GIS technology in the real estate industry due to the latter’s overwhelming interest and dependency on LOCATION.  For real estate professionals, location is always one of the determining factors influencing property value.  Geospatial technology provides the foundation for many common real estate tasks including  property research, market analysis, spatial analysis, matching tenants to available properties, plan market expansion and contraction, as well as staying abreast of changing consumer tastes and local demographics.  The expanding availability of business and marketplace datasets, online property (records) and land information systems, and more friendly and accessible enterprise web-based  geospatial software tools enables real estate firms building geospatial capacity to act more quickly than their competitors.

One Empire State firm which has embraced and is currently expanding it’s GIS infrastructure is the The Shopping Center Group (SCG).  A more focused group within the company is called SCG Retail which is located in Manhattan and concentrates on retail real estate properties in urban environments not specific to shopping centers.  It is in this office where primary SCG GIS resources are located providing geospatial support and guidance to other SCG offices in the United States.   Established in 1984, SCG is a retail-only real estate company providing advisory services to tenants, landlords, developers, investors and financial institutions.  With 22 offices from New York to Southern California, it is the largest commercial/retail-only real estate firm in the United States.

Sample SCG-Retail map of “targeted” neighborhoods in southern Westchester and Fairfield (CT) Counties. SCG-Retail uses ESRI’s Business Analyst to estimate the number of total employees who work within a defined area to generate a general idea of daytime population/employment hubs.  Rent ranges (Est. rent per square foot of retail space) is provided by brokers and business partners.

The SCG-Retail GIS operations are built on top of the ESRI GIS platform to conduct their industry leading mapping and demographic studies.  Connected offices utilize ArcGIS Server services, ArcGIS Online, and selected ArcGIS client programs.  In the Metro NYC region, SCG GIS staff utilize a variety of datasets as part of their market and site specific analysis including ESRI’s Business Analyst and Tapestry Segmentation products and in the a variety of public (Metropolitan Transportation Authority [train, bus, subway ridership], New York City [property/parcels, permits, bus ridership, etc]) and other commercially available real estate and consumer databases. Directing the SCG Retail geospatial efforts its New York City office is Will Parra who joined SCG Retail after working with Sanborn Mapping Company in Pelham, New York.

“SCG Retail’s use of GIS has grown significantly over the past 24-26 months” notes Parra, “it is used and integrated into all of our business decisions”.  Illustrative of SCG-Retail’s work is their recent 125th Street Corridor retail analysis in Harlem, New York – with the world famous Apollo Theater near the center of the study area.   To assess current and anticipated demographic changes in this area of Manhattan and how these trends will effect the potential retail trade landscape,  SCG-Retail GIS staff employed a variety of databases and mapping/analysis tools which enables staff to utilize custom designed GIS tools to establish potential consumer movement patterns in the study area during daytime and evening hours.  The resultant findings of their analysis, as highlighted in this StoryMap, identifies the 125th corridor, particularly the western end, as an excellent area for commercial retail growth and development.

Chase Welles, Partner, SCG Retail comments “Within the last 24-36 months, GIS technology has become an essential tool in working with clients and defining potential retail trade areas.  SCG Retail always had access to U.S. Census and demographic data, estimated consumer trade and drive-time zones, the ability to place potential consumers in defined locations at specific times of the day (AM/PM) via mobile device (smart phone) generated X,Ys  has been a game changer for us working in this space.  This mash-up of new consumer locational data with traditional Census, consumer spending patterns, and other GIS overlays is a very new, powerful, and emerging market analysis tool.”

When representing clients, a basic SCG-Retail map product is a radius map (typically .5 mile radius around a specific address) which provides a basic understanding of the demographics in a given designated trade area. Data is generated using ESRI Business Analyst Online.

Using data collected by mobile devices, The Shopping Center Group developed this map in ArcGIS Desktop to highlight the differences between where people who frequent Colonie Center in Albany, New York, live and where they work. This information is then used within Esri Business Analyst Online to uncover the slight variations in both the demographics and the psychographics of Colonie Center guests.

Learn More About SCG

SCG Retail GIS work has been featured in a February 2017 ArcNews article as well as in an ESRI Case Study YouTube video.  In 2016, The Shopping Center Group was also recognized at the annual ESRI User Group Conference with a Special Achievement In GIS (SAG) award.  Additional information and background on consumer research and analysis in the shopping center industry, visit the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) website.

Contact Will Parra, SCG Retail, at wparra@scg-retail.com.

Purchase College GIS Certificate Program

Working professionals in the Lower Hudson Region now have the opportunity to learn more about and build introductory skills in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology through the noncredit GIS Certificate Program available at Purchase College. The certificate program will enable students to establish GIS skill sets to augment current job responsibilities and build the “geospatial edge” in an increasingly global and technological world.

Everything happens somewhere.

While there continues to be strong interest from the regional engineering/AutoCAD and environmental communities on how to better access and integrate GIS functionality into their organizations and business offerings, Westchester County GIS staff, which is closely aligned with the Purchase College faulty and supports the GIS Professional Certificate program, is seeing a noted increase in the use of GIS mapping technology in emerging areas such as nonprofits, health and social service programs, community groups, and crowd sourcing efforts.   One of the primary reasons for this increased use is the expanded use of web and server technologies –  a noted departure from the reliance on heavy software client applications – by instead leveraging more easy-to-use geospatial applications for a broader range of users.  This is particularly true in organizations and companies with limited technical expertise and infrastructure.

Starting in January 2018, students can earn the noncredit GIS certificate in as few as two (2) semesters.  Three elective courses ( Using Maps to Tell Your Story, Getting to Know ArcGIS Online, and Using Cloud-Based and Online GIS Platforms) are being offered individually as two-day courses on weekends.  A total of 16 hours per class.  No need to try to and  attend class during an already busy work week.  Course descriptions and instructor information, as well as registration information, is available on the Continuing Education GIS web page.   Successfully completing these three Spring 2018 courses and combining with one required course (GIS Essentials or Geographic Information Systems (GIS) – offered each fall semester by the Environmental Studies program in the School of Natural and Social Sciences, on a noncredit option basis), the Purchase College GIS Certificate can be obtained in 2018.

Students may take individual GIS Certificate courses without commitment to the entire program. The courses are face-to-face courses held in a Purchase College computer lab. Students who successfully complete the four required courses are awarded a certificate by the School of Liberal Studies & Continuing Education, reflecting 21 continuing education units (CEUs).  Continuing education units (CEUs) are a way of measuring and officially recognizing the time and effort a student has  put into your education for your job or profession. As you update your credentials, are in line for a transfer, promotion, or evaluation of your current position, or want to  explore a new career, the CEUs recognize student achievement in noncredit learning activities.

Spring GIS coursework at Purchase College is particularly rich in context and timely as preparations are in progress for the annual Westchester GIS User Group Meeting which is hosted on campus by the Environmental Studies Program in May.  As one of the largest GIS User Group meetings in New York State, this year’s conference theme is “GIS in Sustainability and Resiliency” and is expected to be incorporated into each of the spring courses.

Whether trying to augment your existing career with a better understanding of geospatial technology or to begin to better understand “location based” concepts – the Purchase College GIS Professional Certificate Course is for you.    Registration for spring course work is now open.  Do it today!

Geospatial Technologies at St. Lawrence University

The 2017 New York State GeoCon in Lake Placid provided the opportunity to for me to catch up with several statewide colleagues which will be reflected in at least a couple upcoming blog posts.  As part of these discussions, I ended up connecting with a familiar Empire State GIS person of interest:  Carol Cady – who serves as GIS Specialist/Map Librarian at St.Lawrence University (SLU) in Canton, New York.  Our discussion and follow-up communications certainly highlight a wide range of geospatial activities in the state’s North Country which the SLU GIS program is a significant contributor.

Carol directs the GIS project which is housed in the Libraries and Information Technology Division.  Unlike many of the New York State public university geospatial programs, the SLU program is not associated with a specific academic curriculum or major.  She and other GIS program staff provide instructional, technical and research geospatial support to the entire university community in the use of geospatial software and technology including Remote Sensing and Global Positioning Systems (GPS).

Carol arrived at SLU in 2002 to oversee and manage the GIS program.  Before her arrival, the SLU GIS program had been established in the early 90’s by Professor Bill Elberty who was a Geography Professor and for whom the current GIS lab is named after.  Professor Elberty taught GIS courses which provided the foundation for many current GIS professionals across New York State.  After Professor Elberty retired in 1999 the GIS program data and software was moved to the Science Library.

Prior to accepting the SLU position, Carol served as a GIS Analyst for Fort Drum Natural Resources Branch as a contractor. Carol’s background is in biology with a BS from UMass- Amherst and a Masters in Zoology at the University of Vermont.   She was introduced to GIS as land management tool while a seasonal wildlife technician for US Fish & Wildlife Service at Moosehorn Refuge in Calais, ME.   She then returned to UMass to learn more about GIS with coursework in the Wildlife Department.

GIS Facilities and Academic Offerings

The principal location for GIS and GPS instruction at SLU is the Elberty Laboratory for Spatial Analysis.  The lab includes 15 dedicated GIS workstations, printing and plotting devices, field tablets, and both Trimble and Garmin GPS units.  Increasingly, smartphones using the ESRI Collector and Survey 123 apps are being used in field data collection efforts.  Both Carol and GIS/GPS technician Dakota Casserly offer support to the SLU community in a variety of software packages including ArcGIS, QGIS, Google Earth, IMAGINE, IDRISI, and NASA’s WorldWind.

On a regular basis, Carol teaches both Intro to Geographic Information Systems (with lab) and Directed Studies in Geology GIS classes and occasionally Advanced GIS and Intro to Geospatial Technologies.  GIS concepts are incorporated in other courses in the areas of Conservation Biology, Global Studies, Environmental Psychology.

Carol is assisted by Dakota Casserly, St. Lawrence University GIS/GPS Technician who is involved in the program on many levels including designing and guiding projects with student GIS technicians and teaching introductory sessions or specialized topics like GPS and Network Analyst.  A project he has recently completed is the Laurentian Legacy project.

Mapping the Laurentian Legacy is a partner project between the University’s Donor Relations department and the GIS Program. The web app provides interactive and searchable access to the University’s named spaces database.

Projects and Activities:

The GIS program at SLU provides support to many local and regional geospatial efforts.  The program has a long  relationship with the St. Lawrence Land Trust having provided maps for base line and yearly evaluations of easements.  Recently, SLU GIS staff, along with Jess Rogers, Assistant Professor, Biology/Environmental Studies, SUNY Potsdam, and Alex French, Sustainability Coordinator, Clarkson University conducted a suitability analysis to find large privately owned forested properties which meet Land Trust criteria to put lands into a protected easement.  More recently, Carol’s Intro to GIS has been involved in a suitability analysis to identify non-forested properties in all of St. Lawrence County that may meet Land Trust easement criteria.  In 2013 Dakota’s predecessor, Jonathan Ignatowski, worked with the St.Lawrence County Health Department to identify houses built before the early 1970s and may contain lead paint.  This was part of a larger project to help with lead paint remediation for household owners.

One SLU project which was of particular interest to me is the June 2017 Death in St. Lawrence County (DSLC) Project that began an archeological excavation at the St. Lawrence County Poorhouse Cemetery in Canton, NY.  As a result of decades of erosion, the cemetery had a number of graves at risk of washing away into the Grasse River.  While the original goal of the project was to identify and exhume at-risk graves, identify the individuals using forensic techniques, and re-inter the remains elsewhere on the property. Unfortunately, Mindy C. Pitre, an assistant anthropology professor at St. Lawrence University, who was overseeing the project said she and her team of students discovered that very little remained of the bones at the gravesites they dug closest to the Grasse River.  As a result, the bone could not be examined and information such as gender and age could not be determined, she said. The deteriorated bone fragments were returned to where they were found and reburied.  It was felt that continuing any further would have done more harm than good by removing it, so the project was stopped.  Nonetheless, the project did include the use of state-of-the-art geospatial tools including high resolution GPS data and 3-D photogrammetric software to record and digitally preserve the archeology. This project was presented as a poster at the Lake Placid conference.

Additional examples of student projects focusing on American Kestral nesting sites, Brook Trout spawning sites, wind turbine placement relative to hawk migrations, and the effects of St. Lawrence County land use changes on grassland bird habitat can be found on the SLU GIS landing page.

Working Partners:

Collaborating organizations in the North Country recognize SLU’s GIS contribution in regional geospatial efforts.  Notes Jason Pfotenhauer, Deputy Director. St. Lawrence County Planning Office:

“The St. Lawrence County Planning Office has had a long relationship with the GIS lab at St. Lawrence University having worked with Carol Cady for many years, as well as several of her mapping technicians.  We traveled to numerous State GIS conferences and NYS geo-spatial summits together and have had approximately 10 SLU students work with our office in various capacities.  Two recent larger scale county projects were the result of Carol’s willingness to supervise graduating seniors with strong GIS skills.  For the first, Carol took the initiative to pursue Walker Fellowship funding so that Sean Gannon could receive a paid internship and create the initial dataset for the County’s Agricultural Atlas.  The second project involved the collection of raw U.S. Census data to depict housing and socioeconomic data at the census tract level (which is not readily available on existing regional, state or federal websites).  Dylan Arpey undertook this initiative to help inform the County’s Assessment of Fair Housing.

The GIS lab staff have also provided us with valuable technical assistance that improved our capabilities in preparing maps for county constituents.  Most recently Dakota Casserly and Carol provided a tutorial on how to geoprocess tiffs in order to create digital models of hard copy flood plain maps.”

Star Carter, GIS Supervisor, Development Authority of the North Country (DANC) adds:

“The St. Lawrence County university/college GIS people are all fantastic and very worthy of recognition!  I work with the SLU crew a few times a year to get data or share data for infrastructure in the Village of Canton.  It’s a good relationship.  DANC has hired graduates and summer interns from both SLU and SUNY Potsdam.  A former DANC GIS Specialist graduated from SLU and is now in grad school in Colorado; and a current DANC GIS Technician graduated from SUNY Potsdam.  All of these graduates came out of their programs with enough GIS skills and practical experience to hit the ground running and be valuable employees right away.  So, from the hiring perspective of a local employer, having these GIS programs available at local universities is very important to keeping me supplied with a competent workforce”.

Summary

The St. Lawrence University GIS program illustrates the growing presence – and importance – of the New York statewide network of university programs which support regional and local GIS initiatives.   In absence of paid consultant assistance, University programs can often provide a certain level of geospatial support to governments and organizations with limited funding or geospatial capacity.  While several Empire State college programs offer both B.S. and advanced degrees in geospatial technologies, non-degree academic programs such as SLU offer high quality geospatial academic training, combined with applied field experience that adequately prepares students for a variety of geospatial workforce occupations.

For more information on the St. Lawrence University GIS Program, contact Carol Cady at ccady@stlawu.edu.

 

Best of the Show: New York Giant Traveling Map

While the recent statewide GIS conference in Lake Placid featured several presentations and vendor displays in emerging  areas of geospatial development across the Empire State, one presentation –  and an interactive one no less –  was certainly one of the most refreshing and welcomed.  Why’s that, you ask?  Well, consider the following:   (1) it contains  no technical jargon or  software programming speak,  fancy charts or diagrams, (2) has connections to the  educational community, (3) applicable anywhere in the Empire State,  (4) absolutely and completely different, and  (5) suitable for all ages –  Rated “G”!  Yes, the New York Giant Traveling Map which was presented by Susan B. Hoskins, Senior Extension Associate at Cornell University.

Susan B. Hoskins demonstrates use of the NYS Giant Traveling Map to conference attendees during 2017 GeoCon in Lake Placid. Note: No shoes allowed – the geoenabled version of the game Twister?

The Map

In celebration of the 30th anniversary of state geographic alliances, National Geographic produced a Giant Traveling Map for each state.  Two copies were gifted to the New York Geographic Alliance in 2016 headed by Timothy McDonnell, geosciences faculty at Monroe Community College in Rochester.  Since then the New York 4-H Geospatial Sciences program has gotten involved to help promote the map in 4-H programs and classrooms statewide.  The 4-H Geospatial Science and Technology Program, within Cornell Cooperative Extension, provides educator professional development in GPS, GIS and the tools of remote sensing.  The geography lessons learned on the Giant Traveling Map are fundamental to using technology in map making.  Many youth and adult mentors take these skills and technology lending library and apply them to community mapping projects.

The Giant Traveling Map of New York, measures 15 X 20 feet and includes major cities, water bodies, mountains, Indian Reservations and National Parks.

The map “kit” comes complete with a curriculum of six activities that help youth explore map features and symbols, grids, map scale, orientation and direction, and the basics of Geographic Information Systems.  Props included in the kit are orange cones for marking points, yellow plastic chain, blue yarn and a ball of string to map “linear features, a compass rose and map legends.  Teachers and users of the map can determine how far is it from New York City to Albany by comparing one’s foot to the scale bar and walk along the Hudson River.  Or finding the Erie Canal?  Follow the canal path from Albany to B-uf-fa-lo-ooo, just like the song.

To date, the following schools and organizations have hosted the Map:

Additionally, McDonnell states: “The Map can be used in middle schools to support 7th Grade curriculums for social studies which includes New York history and geography”.  The Geographic  Alliance  maintains other resources specifically designed for middle school including  The Atlas of New York: Legacies of the Erie Canal and Lessons for the Atlas of New York.  More information can be found under the Resources link on their website.

The Map Travels to Westchester County

After  the Lake Placid conference, the Map traveled to Solomon Schechter elementary school in White Plains where it was used by 4th grade teacher  Amy Sroka who expressed accolades after having used the map..  After a week in the classroom, one of Ms. Sroka’s students commented:

I learned a bunch of names of different towns and cities. It was really fun trying to find the locations of a lot of the places. While I was studying the map, I discovered that there are actually so many more mountains in New York State than I had thought there were…I really enjoyed the map!”

If your school, family gathering, or organization is interested in using the Map, contact Tim McDowell at the New York Geographic Alliance.  It is also available for sale through National Geographic for $750.

10 Questions: Jonathan Cobb

 

I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Jonathan Cobb for nearly two decades.  As part-owner of Waypoint Technology Group based in Albany, Jonathan and his company product line and services are well recognized to the New York State geospatial community.  Waypoint is also a long-time supporter of many statewide geospatial events and programs.  I had the chance to catch up with Jonathan at 2017 GeoCon in Lake Placid to discuss some of Waypoint’s current business efforts and new trends in GPS-related technology.

eSpatiallyNewYork: How did you get started with Global Positioning Systems (GPS) technology and the story behind Waypoint Technology Group?

Cobb: As with so many career trajectories, mine was circuitous and unplanned.  After growing up in western New York and graduating from the University of Rochester with a dual degree in Mechanical Engineering and Geology, I relocated to the Albany area to begin my professional career as a junior engineer/geologist.  It was in this capacity where I was first introduced to GIS technology.  It was 1990 and I was assigned to work on two projects that involved the siting of new sanitary landfills.  GIS was the underlying technology that was used to determine the relative favorability of candidate sites.  While not a GIS practitioner, I worked closely with my firm’s in-house GIS technicians to develop the relevant graphical overlays and to compute various quantitative values that were used to support the siting process. Simultaneously, I was consuming all of the written material I could find that related to the growing application of GIS technology, and became intrigued with what was at the time the poorly understood commercial potential of the global positioning system (“GPS”).  Shortly thereafter, and with the help of my business partner Greg Hunt, Waypoint Technology Group  (“Waypoint”) was born.

eSpatiallyNewYork: You’ve been a Trimble distributor for many years.  These relationships are still strong moving forward?

Cobb: Within one-year of forming Waypoint we were approached by Trimble to represent their interests in the northeastern United States – but most especially New York – as a distributor of their mapping, GIS, and land surveying solutions.  That was nineteen years ago and yes, we’re still going strong.  Our current portfolio of Trimble solutions now includes robotic total stations for land surveying and 3D scanners, which have become very accessible – from both an economic and functionality perspective – in recent years.  In addition to Trimble, we also represent Laser Technology, Inc. (“LTI”) is a leading manufacturer of professional measurement solutions, based primarily on laser technology.  LTI’s products fulfill an important niche for our customers, both in stand-alone form as well as in conjunction with Trimble solutions.

eSpatiallyNewYork: Smartphone technology has significantly changed field data collection.  How has this changed your business model?  Who is using what?

Cobb:  We refer to the deployment of smart phones (as well as tablets) for the purpose of geospatial field data collection as a manifestation of the Bring-Your-Own-Device (“BYOD”) revolution.  This development is something of a double-edged sword in that the ease of smartphone-driven app-based data collection effectively brings that power to anyone with a device and a data plan (i.e. virtually the entire population); at the same time, questionable claims of positional accuracy coupled with the absence (often) of authoritative  metadata persist.  This has resulted in manufacturers such as Trimble developing compact, lightweight, high-performance GPS receivers for the express purpose of pairing wirelessly with smartphones in order to bring professional-grade positional accuracy to the masses.  With respect to the impacts on our business model, I’d say the key differences are two-fold.  One – professional grade solutions are no longer the sole province of larger organizations or those with substantial technology budgets and/or in-house IT resources; and two, the use of smart phones and apps has spawned an entirely new breed of services (e.g. data collection apps, differential correction data streams) that are built upon pay-as-you-go or subscription-based revenue models.  

eSpatiallyNewYork:  What’s the composition of your client base in 2017?  (i.e., Surveying/engineering, general data collection, academic, recreational)?

Cobb:  Waypoint is fortunate to have cultivated a diverse customer base over our nearly two-decade existence.  While the distribution varies on an annual basis, our active customers are comprised of an approximately even split between the private and public sectors.  Within the private sector, consultants (e.g. engineers, land surveyors, ecologists) make up the largest segment, while in the public sector, local and state government agencies dominate, followed by the federal government.  Academic institutions make up less than 10% of our customer base in any given year, but are significant in that the instructional and research arms expose students – future potential clients – to our portfolio of solutions.

eSpatiallyNewYork:  What percentage of our business are repeat customers?  How might current market place factors be affecting your client base?

Cobb:  We add new customers on a weekly basis, but the vast majority of our customers are of the long-term/repeat variety.  This is partly due to the nature of the technological solutions that we sell; that is, once a customer has made an initial investment in hardware and software — and very often, training – switching to a different platform can be cost-prohibitive.  In addition, many customers elect to protect their investment through annual hardware warranties, software maintenance, and technical support service contracts.

Going forward, the migration toward “bring your own device” solutions and software-as-a-service solutions promises to tilt our business model into one that is more heavily reliant upon recurring revenue.  For example, in addition to subscription-based software applications which are now ubiquitous, we are seeing a transition to short-term pay-as-you-go, differential correction data streams to improve the positional accuracy of the location services technology that is onboard consumer devices, such as cell phones and tablets.  This innovation opens the door to high-accuracy position determination for a potentially large segment of end-users that would have otherwise been unreachable due purely to cost.        

eSpatiallyNewYork:  Waypoint has worked internationally.  Tell us or highlight some of these clients and their projects.

Cobb:  In addition to supplying the United Nations with solutions that have been deployed in challenging political regions, including Lebanon, Eritrea, and Senegal, we have provided on the ground training and consulting services at the American University of Kosovo (“AUK”), in the young nation’s capital of Pristina.  AUK is affiliated with Rochester Institute of Technology (“RIT”), and it was through our long history as an RIT vendor that we were invited to participate on that project, which also included training services for engineers in Kosovo’s nascent national electric power transmission authority.  We have also supported RIT’s other international efforts through the donation of hardware and software to support humanitarian missions in Haiti and Rwanda.

eSpatiallyNewYork:  What’s the coolest or most unusual client application you’ve worked on using GPS technology in New York State?

Cobb: Great question.   With such a diverse clientele this is a difficult one to answer, but if pressed, I think I’d have to settle on one of the many unique applications of 3D scanning technology that has been led by a member of Waypoint’s staff.  The project focused on the precise recording of the existing conditions of the roof of the New York State Capitol in Albany.  This was in support of an architectural restoration project and is an excellent example of the utility of 3D scanning.  Another one was performing a similar function in an abandoned elevator shaft.  But for me, the most interesting application was deploying the scanner to capture a three-dimensional representation of a remote and difficult to access bat cave in support of research related to the devastating and widely-publicized white-nose syndrome.

eSpatiallyNewYork: What do you see as the next big “GPS” technology advancement?

Cobb:  Hmmmmm…….the “next” big advancement has arguably been commercially viable for several years.  That is, the transition from GPS-only solutions to GNSS-based solutions.  Specifically, this refers to GPS as strictly the American satellite constellation, whereas GNSS (global navigation satellite system) is intended to incorporate ALL constellations, including American, Russian, European, and Chinese.  The growth of GNSS-based solutions, which translates to the ability to acquire and continuously track many more satellites, has allowed for accurate positioning in previously challenging conditions (e.g. urban canyons, dense forests).  The transition from GPS to GNSS has been so profound, that even the lexicon has evolved:  we now routinely use “GNSS” in place of “GPS”. Beyond that, component miniaturization, extended battery life, and of course, the rapid proliferation of drone technology will continue to significantly impact the geospatial data capture landscape for years to come and GPS/GNSS will continue to be an important part of that evolution.

eSpatiallyNewYork:  If you had your way, what’s the one GPS “investment” you’d like the NYS geospatial government and business community to make?

Cobb:  Education and training.   Acquiring hardware and software is simple; trivial even.  I’d like to see a greater proportion of technology resources devoted to understanding the capabilities – and importantly, the limitations — of geospatial technology, rather than that aspect being treated as an afterthought.  The vast majority of questions that we field from end-users relate either to software operations or positional accuracy concerns.  For many organizations, a modest investment in comprehensive training would not only result in measurably superior positional accuracy, but it would also improve productivity.    

eSpatiallyNewYork:  Career Reboot:  What would you be doing if it wasn’t Waypoint?  Mason? Hockey player?  Teacher?  Sous Chef?

Cobb:  If I wasn’t working full-time at Waypoint, I would probably occupy time melding my dual interests in geospatial technology and world travel.  I’ve had the good fortune in recent years to blend these passions for both business and recreational purposes, and I have every intention of continuing.  Ironically though, I’ve found that the most memorable experiences occur when you leave the technology behind, ignore the map and the Yelp reviews, and just let the road lead you.

 

 

Geospatial Science Education at the U.S. Military Academy

While academic institutions across the State of New York offer rich and diverse geospatial educations at the graduate, undergraduate, associate, and increasingly certificate programs levels, one location offers a unique and phenomenally different perspective on application of GIS and geospatial technology:  The U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York.

Over the past several years I’ve had ancillary introductions to the geospatial program at the U.S. Military Academy, albeit it was greatly broaden after a presentation by West Point instructors at our May 2016 Westchester GIS User Group meeting at Purchase College.  It was here conference attendees were fortunate enough to see a video – accompanied by the display of an actual device  – on how drone technology was being introduced and taught in the Military Academy classroom environment.  Since then I continued conversation with staff from the Geospatial Science Program in the Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering and was recently invited to attend a Computer Cartography classroom lecture earlier this month with instructor  Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Jared L. Ware.

Instructor LTC Jared Ware leading a classroom lecture in his Fall 2017 Computer Cartography class

Teaching and Classroom Environment

The U.S. Military Academy is an internationally recognized institution for combined academic and military excellence. West Point offers cadets a bachelor of science degree in GIS, and the graduates go on to serve in the armed services as well as various positions in the public and private sectors.  Graduates are posted to installations across the USA and the world.  There is no specific place graduates specializing in geospatial technology move on to as they have a choice based on their preferences for a military branch or a priority installation.  Some will have the opportunity as junior officers to serve at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency focusing on military intelligence while others will apply the technology in more traditional applications with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  Understandably, the program also focuses on the utilization of geospatial technologies – including GPS, satellite imagery, real-time force tracking, sensor integration, and massive geographic databases – for use on the military battlefield.  The Army also provides geospatial support in a wide range of humanitarian relief efforts such as those currently ongoing in response to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria.  The efforts, as well as other Army geospatial products and services are highlighted on the Army Geospatial Center website:

GIS instructors at the Military Academy use a suite of software including  ESRI, ENVI and ERDAS as the primary GIS software, along with Socet Set and Trimble for survey and photogrammetry.  There are plans to begin building additional capacity with Open Source software such as QGIS as the Army is increasingly seeing this software being used in developing countries.  And as a result, needs military personnel trained in the software to collaborate and work with local users.  For Fall2017, the Geospatial Program has 60 declared GIS Majors which includes sophomores, juniors, and seniors.  This major requires the completion of a 26-core course  curriculum augmented with a wide range of electives many of which are similar to other traditional academic coursework offerings such as Urban Geography, Water Resources Planning and Design, and Principles of Land Use Planning and Management.  There are additional 80 students taking GIS-related courses from other academic majors from the Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering including Environmental Science, Environmental Engineering, and Geography which use GIS coursework as an elective.  The newly created Space Science major is anticipated to have a significant GIS/geospatial focus as well.

With regard to their approach in teaching geospatial science at the Academy, Instructor LTC Ware notes:

“We want cadets to understand the theoretical and applied aspects of geospatial information science.  Our program provides a comprehensive grounding in the theory of academic disciplines such as geographic information systems, photogrammetry, remote sensing, and surveying.  Our program also challenges cadets to understand applications that are developed and derived from the theory, and we use systems (mainly hardware and software) to allow cadets to create their own products and learn from a hand’s on approach.  We want our students to be intelligent in the science so they can solve problems should applications not exist, or they can easily troubleshoot existing systems and reach a solution.  As an example, we want cadets to understand the hardware and software, how the hardware and software works, and the theoretical underpinnings so as technology changes, they can adapt with it.  We also adapt our academic courses as theories and applications evolve, and we are currently exploring data visualization so we can be at the forefront of new ideas and new technologies.”

Drone technology is becoming an important teaching tool in many areas of the Military Academy curriculum and LTC Ware and his colleagues have been very proactive in utilizing drone technology in the Geospatial Science Program.  An excellent overview of the development of drones at West Point appears in the November 2016 edition of the Commercial UAV News.

Drone map products developed by cadets for Range 11 at the U.S. Military Academy

The Military Academy’s Geospatial Information Science major is accredited by the United States Geospatial-Intelligence Foundation (USGIF) which developed the GEOINT Certification Program.  The GEOINT certificate provides a foundation on which GEOINT professionals can certify the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary for successfully meeting the duties and responsibilities within the multi-faceted GEOINT tradecraft.  With this accreditation from USGIF, the Military Academy can offer students GEOINT certificates accompanying their college degree.  (In previous blog posts I’ve referenced in the head-to-head GISP vs. GEOINT certificate match-up, i.e., which might be better for the NYS GIS professional, my vote goes to GEOINT due to the large – and growing – drone research and development industry here in the Empire State.)   Additionally, in 2015, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) and United States Geological Survey (USGS) selected the US Military Academy to be one of the academic institutions included in the Centers of Academic Excellence in Geospatial Sciences program.

Hudson Highlands Land Trust (HHLT)

Its always interesting to learn about an organization’s work outside of the day-to-day norm.  Maybe, and often, in context of a contribution to the larger good.  Such was the case as I was exiting my time on campus with LTC Ware when he mentioned a cadet’s volunteer summer work with the Hudson Highlands Land Trust (HHLT) across the Hudson River in Putnam County.  I reached out to HHLT Conservation Stewardship Manager, Nicole Wooten to find out more about the project and its outcome.  She replied:

“Working with West Point LTC Ware and Cadet John Stabler to map the current trail system on Hudson Highlands Land Trust’s new Granite Mountain Preserve was a great experience and partnership that benefited both the Land Trust and the community of Putnam Valley.  Under LTC Ware’s guidance, Cadet Stabler gained real, immediately-applicable GIS skills.  His work took place both in the computer lab and in the field, combining aerial imagery and prediction with on-the-ground proofing.  He really dedicated himself to the project, going above and beyond to generate data on not only existing recreational trails, but also historic stonewalls and important natural features.  The Land Trust is now using that data to plan the best possible trail system for Granite Mountain Preserve.  We are grateful for LTC Ware’s and Cadet Stabler’s work, and look forward to continuing this great partnership.”

U.S. Military Academy cadet John Stabler with Nicole Wooten (L) and Hudson Highland Land Trust Executive Director, Michelle Smith (R).

Summary

While the theoretical geospatial concepts are similar to that in civilian applications, the final applied use of geospatial technology, as taught at the U.S. Military Academy, is often uniquely different.  Most notably is in the defense of our country and allies.   The Empire State’s higher education academic geospatial offerings are indeed very diverse and continue to contribute to the development and evolution of the technology.

For information contact Lieutenant Colonel Jared Ware, Assistant Professor in the Geospatial Information Science Program, at Jared.Ware@usma.edu.

 

 

 

Geospatial Business Spotlight: MRB Group

Company Name:        MRB Group

 Locations:                  New York: Rochester, Syracuse, Elmira, Seneca Falls
                                     Texas: Austin, Temple

Website:                      www.mrbgroup.com

Employees:                55

Established:              1927

For many New York State local governments, GIS is not just a flashy map or application. It is a tool to manage vital records focusing on real property, development, and infrastructure.

MRB Group has been helping local governments implement GIS solutions for almost two decades.  Across the Empire State and learning from the experience in working with over 120 communities, MRB professional staff understand that the help of a GIS consultant can often be the difference between GIS becoming an indispensable management and decision-making tool versus a burden on staff.

The GIS team at MRB Group works alongside in-house engineers, architects, and planners to turn completed utility construction projects into permanent records in an enterprise and sustainable GIS program.   Once automated, local government managers can track the age, maintenance, and condition of utility infrastructure assets. Recent geospatial focus has been assisting local governments in leveraging smart device (phone) technology and expanding mobile GIS applications.  Municipal workers achieve a high level of efficiency when given the ability to view utility and assets on these devices and create/track inspections and work history in the field or in the office.   Additional MRB Group geospatial services include, tax map maintenance, ArcGIS.com account administration, contracted GIS support services, pavement management, EPA Municipal Separate Storm Water Systems (MS4) compliance, fire department pre-plan mapping, comprehensive plan mapping, and integration of survey GPS, 3D laser scanning, and unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and drone technologies.

Products and Services

City of Auburn

The City of Auburn is using the ArcGIS Collector app on Apple iPads to send multiple crews in the field for annual inspection and testing of 1,200 fire hydrants. The Fire Chief uses a desktop map viewer built with ArcGIS Web AppBuilder to monitor the status of field crews. When each inspection is finished, the hydrant symbol changes color on the map to indicate to all crews and the Fire Chief of its completion. (Figures 1 & 2).

Figure 1:  MRB ArcGIS Collector apps support fire hydrant inspection in City of Aubur

Figure 2:  Auburn fire hydrant inspections being conducted by fire department personnel.

Village of Avon

The Village of Avon is using the ArcGIS Collector app on mobile devices to actively mark and track the location of water pipe leaks and breaks. Over time, this will provide village officials with critical information to spot trends and to plan for necessary capital project improvements. The application also enables staff to enter notes about the repairs completed and attach pictures (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Village of Avon uses a MRB mobile app to assist in managing water system infrastructure assets.

Town of Ontario

The Town of Ontario was an early adopter of mobile GIS technology for managing its MS4 storm outfall inspections. Since 2013, the town has used the ArcGIS Collector app to visit each of the Town’s outfalls to monitor for illicit discharges, verify structural condition, and note maintenance requirements (Figure 4).

Figure 4:  The Town of Ontario deploys MRB developed apps to support MS4 regulatory programs.

Town of Penfield

Having seen significant growth in recent years, the Town of Penfield contracted with MRB to build a web and mobile-friendly application which would provide a public-facing GIS viewer for residents, businesses, and developers. The viewer includes information relating to zoning districts, agricultural districts, environmental protection areas, and purchased development rights, among other spatial datasets (Figure 5).

Figure 5: MRB develops apps for publishing geospatial data for the general public, business, and developers

Town of Canandaigua

The Town of Canandaigua is in the process of completing a Parks and Recreation Master Plan. An ESRI Story Map template was selected to create a GIS map of all the parks and recreation opportunities in the City and Town of Canandaigua. The application enables residents to click on points of interest on the map, see facility information, and generate driving directions.

MRB web apps create easy-to-use web viewers for identifying local government parks and recreation facilities

Summary

With a principal focus on municipal services, MRB Group provides local governments with professional engineering support for day-to-day operations focusing on water and wastewater treatment, and public works services. The GIS team at MRB Group is committed to creating solutions to help implement modern mapping technology into an understandable and useful tool for municipal workers across the Empire State.

For more information on MRB Group geospatial products and services:

Contact:
                             
Daniel Allen, GISP
MRB Group
585-381-9250
dallen@mrbgroup.com

 

 

Geospatial Business Spotlight: Topographics, LLC

Company Name:                              Topographics, LLC

Location:                                          Saratoga Springs, New York

Website:                                           www.topographics.org

Number of Employees:                   3

Established:                                    2016

Topographics  provides maps and mapping solutions for a wide variety of clients throughout New York and the United States. Evolved from JIMAPCO, Inc, a long time and well recognized New York State based cartographic and mapping company, the Topographics cartographic team has over 100 years of combined experience providing printed maps, digital files, and most recently interactive mapping applications.  Their client portfolio includes a variety of municipalities, chambers of commerce, educational, religious, and medical organizations, as well as a vast assortment of business clients across the Empire State.

Products and Services

Hardcopy

Using their expertise in graphics and print production, Topographics provides printed folded maps, laminated wall and tourism maps, atlas books, and other hard-copy products for hundreds of customers. Hardcopy products are published using Adobe Illustrator. Selected New York State examples include:

Data obtained from the New York State GIS Clearinghouse provided the foundation to create this statewide elevation model map for a major upstate university.

Product for Adworkshop, which does marketing and communications for Greene County and other organizations in the Catskills.

A section of the Town of Islip (Long Island) hardcopy map. The map contains OpenSource content (OpenStreetMap), features obtained from Suffolk County GIS, and other data sources.

Additionally, Paul Hein, one of the principals at Topographics has an impressive personal portfolio of cartographic products available for viewing and purchase at www.fineartamerica.com. This is a map of the Finger Lakes Region showing elevation contours and shaded relief. Each contour interval is colored with a different shade presenting the area as an abstract map. Take a look.

Online and Mobile

Beyond hard-copy, Topographics  provides digital files used for tourism promotion, sales and marketing, realty operations, way-finding, and business development, among others. Their online maps are interactive applications displaying information ranging from business locations to recreational trails. They most often implement the Leaflet or OpenLayers open source JavaScript libraries and make use of Mapbox and Mapzen services for the styling of OpenStreetMap and custom data as well as providing geocoding and directions. Other platforms include Avenza Web Author and the Google Maps and MapQuest API.  Ilustrative examples include:

This is one of my favorites: The Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany interactive map showing facilities and services within the Diocese. The application includes hundreds of Diocese related facilities and properties which can be turned off/on with the Categories button.

The Saratoga Convention and Tourism Bureau interactive map presents hundreds of visitor resources and opportunities for those in the city or planning a visit. Using our mobile-friendly technology, users can see their current location, locate nearby resources, see walking and biking trails, and find recreational resources.

The following examples are interactive maps for both the Washington County Tourism and the Village of Chatham (Columbia County).  Click on either image to be rerouted to the actual online map viewer.

The Topographics Crown Maple Farm (Dutchess County) map below is available as a hardcopy map and also runs on the Avenza Mobile Map App so it can be “used on the trail” with a smartphone.  User’s can also record their track (their movement) including elevation. User’s can also plot points on the map and assign attributes to the points, including photos. For the Crown Maple Map, Topographics had the owner of the property actually walk the trails using a preliminary map they created for the app to capture histracks. The owner emailed the X,Y’s back to Topographics to be incorporated into the final product. Topographics has created similar maps for other clients all over the world using the Avenza app.

Summary

Far from just a traditional hardcopy cartographic mapping company, Topographics uses and combines many industry leading Open Source software components in producing and publishing their products and services to their clients.   Be informative and nice to see Topographics presenting at future New York State GIS events and conferences.

For more information on Topographics, LLC products and services:

Contact:                        Paul Hein
                                      Topographics, LLC
                                       info@topographics.org
                                       518-428-6638