GIS Day Turns Five

Somewhere in small town America, kindergarten students are engrossed using a map to help Katy, a character from the children's book Katy and the Big Snow, navigate throughout Geoppolis to plow out the streets after a big snowstorm. Down the hall, fourth and fifth graders listen attentively to a presentation on the location data associated with the nation's zoos, followed by a hands-on mapping activity to determine the distribution of captive lions in the United States. And across the street at the high school, students work on a routing plan for commercial trucks, and discover the elements involved in digital routing. At the other end of town, the city hall is abuzz with commotion as the council members prepare for an open house for residents that will feature presentations and hands-on demonstrations of the town's newly implemented geographic information system (GIS). The new system will offer them a chance to see firsthand where their tax dollars are going and how the community is benefiting. Similar events are taking place all across the country-and the world. Why all the special attention on GIS-related activities? It's GIS Day 2003!

National GIS Day started Nov. 19, 1999. On that day, more than 1,900 organizations representing 25 industries in more than 90 countries registered to hold a GIS Day event. GIS Day is a grassroots event that formalizes the practice of GIS users and vendors of opening their doors to schools, businesses and the general public to showcase real-world applications of this important technology. The event is principally sponsored by the National Geographic Society, the Association of American Geographers, University Consortium for Geographic Information Science, the United States Geological Survey, The Library of Congress, Sun Microsystems (Santa Clara, Calif.), Hewlett-Packard (HP, Palo Alto, Calif.) and ESRI (Redlands, Calif.).

In Washington, D.C. a multi-agency effort honoring Geography Awareness Week (Nov. 17-21) and GIS Day 2003 took place Nov. 19th and 20th. Exhibits focused on allowing attendees to see how mapping and imagery are being implemented effectively across all segments of the federal government. This federal event offered a chance for the public, federal/state/local officials and key members of the geospatial community to reflect on how far technology has come in hundreds of years.

The centerpiece of the GIS celebration was a large federal multi-agency exhibit demonstrating how geospatial technologies support agencies in achieving their goals and illustrating how multiple agencies are working together and with partners. Information sessions held over the course of the two days allowed attendees to learn about key efforts in enterprise architecture, geo-based E-Government initiatives, Geospatial One-Stop, Earth Observing Systems and how agencies are using geospatial technologies to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Participation at the state level continues to grow as well. More states than ever have officially recognized GIS Day with proclamations coming from the governor's office of several states. Adding to the growing list of participating states, Kentucky, Maine, North Dakota, Louisiana and Vermont all issued proclamations officially recognizing GIS Day 2003. Kentucky also declared Geography Awareness Week. And even big cities, like San Francisco and New York City, and small towns like Monroe, N.C., got involved by declaring Nov. 19, 2003, GIS Day.

Science teachers in Texas participating in the statewide Empowering Science Education through Technology (E-SET) program took students to selected field sites for hands-on activities including water quality testing and biomonitoring.

The GIS Day effort is growing internationally as well, according to Maria Jordan, ESRI's GIS Day coordinator. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Monrovia, Liberia, illustrated how it uses GIS to improve Monrovia and all of Liberia, and worked to generate student interest in geography and natural resources, including how their interrelationship affects the well being of the nation. Midlands State University in Zimbabwe hosted a workshop to discuss and demonstrate the potential of GIS in development in Zimbabwe. And the Eastern Cape Provincial Government in East London, South Africa, planned a GIS Day workshop attended by about 60 GIS and non-GIS program managers within their government departments, municipalities and private sector companies to demonstrate how various government departments use GIS.

"GIS companies are really embracing this effort and dedicating themselves to getting the word out to schools and students," Jordan said. HP is a new principal sponsor for GIS Day 2003. "HP understands that geography fundamentally influences and connects the world," said Frank Celona, worldwide GIS marketing manager at HP. "Supporting GIS Day means the benefits of GIS will only increase, and we are thrilled to be a part of it."

GIS Day 2004 will be celebrated on Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2004.