Geo Positions: GIS for Environmental Consulting
Tiffany Perrin, a senior geographic information system professional (GISP) analyst at Farallon Consulting, based in Issaquah, Wash., says her path to mapmaking started in college, studying geography. At the time, she says cartography wasn’t necessarily digital. “We were actually making maps in the photo lab.” As she was finishing school, she says GIS software was growing in popularity. Perrin started learning the software very quickly, and she says keeping her skills current with it has been key in helping her move along in the GIS profession, which she’s been a part of for 25 years now. “It’s always changing with something new. So I’m constantly learning,” she says.
Farallon Consulting is an environmental consulting firm that provides a suite of environmental services allowing clients to define, understand and mitigate environmental risks. They gather, report and translate environmental data so it is understandable for making informed decisions.
Perrin says GIS allows the firm to tie in real-time analytical data from the field to a particular site on the earth in a map. “I feel the GIS displays a more honest look at what’s happening on the site. We bring the field data in and we can tie it all together geospatially in the database,” she says.
The majority of the firm’s clients are located on the West coast and are from private industry. A lot of the maps Perrin makes are used as legal documents, so when she’s putting them together it is vital that the story they tell is accurate. For this reason, she says she feels like she’s making maps that are truly making a difference.
GIS is a critical discipline to have, Perrin says. “Any time you need to look at something spatially, there’s a map for that. The software has many modules and can be used in any discipline. I’m able to put my data in 3D models and analyze it in such a graphic, powerful way and I find that exciting.”
Q. What do you do for a living?
A. I am the senior GIS analyst, as well as the GIS manager. I manage all the projects that come in and need to be put in the GIS database. Some of them are long-term projects that have been developing for several years and some are very short. That might be a one-time map, such as to get a permit for field sampling. I handle every step that touches the GIS data: managing the software, managing the projects, putting the data in, analyzing it and producing many different maps, along with meeting with clients to discuss project needs.
Q. What is your favorite tool to work with?
A. I use Esri’s suite of GIS products. My favorite tools are within the 3D analyst module. I really enjoy putting the data in the 3D models. … Here at Farallon I’ve been able to put different projects in 3D and so I’d say I’ve been able to dig in and have fun working in it.
Q. What is the toughest challenge you face?
A. The toughest challenge, which has not changed over time, has been educating how GIS can help the different project managers and engineers. I prefer to have them bring me in at the beginning of a project so that we can budget our resources accurately and eventually save time for the project. The challenges of marketing internally seem to stay, especially as GIS functionality continues to grow.
Q. What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
A. The most important lesson is communicating well, such as asking the right questions, so that I can deliver the product that the client desires. I’m amazed at how one little detail can change so many things. So I’ve learned to really ask good questions.
Q. What advancements would you like to see made?
A. I feel there’s possibly still 50 percent of the GIS software that I probably haven’t yet tapped into. I think GIS software is becoming easier to learn. However, I would say in some ways they’re trying to make using the software so easy that the GIS discipline of analyzing the data seems to get lost. Anyone can put dots on a map and print it out. But actually analyzing the data, finding answers within the data and producing an accurate cartographic representation of the data is a skillset that may be getting lost.
Q. What are your keys to success?
A. Along with communicating well, I have learned to be extremely detail oriented. There are several quality control steps that I go through to make sure I am delivering an accurate product. I’m typically quality controlling my deliverables many different times in several different ways.