At its most fundamental level, government is a matter of geography. Cities, counties, states, and nations all have borders, and they all have the responsibility to properly manage what occurs within those borders. That’s why geographic information systems (GIS) are proving to be such a vital component of good government, especially at the local level. According to the Federal Geographic Data Committee, “[GIS] technology provides vital support for almost everything a local government does. Well-defined geospatial programs help jurisdictions provide quality service to citizens in a cost-effective manner.”* So what exactly is GIS and how is it being used by public administrators? Read on.
Have you ever watched an old crime drama where the detectives have stuck pushpins into a map to denote the locations of crimes? What you saw was an old-fashioned GIS. With modern computing, there’s no need for pushpins. GIS takes raw data that has some form of a geographic component and maps that data so government agencies and other groups can see the physical location of data points. This, in turn, makes it easier to overlay and compare data, see and interpret patterns, and respond to issues with a geographic component. The applications for GIS stretch across almost every aspect of public administration.
In most municipalities, GIS plays a role in everything from 911 calls to major investigations. Before computers, responding to a 911 call required physical maps. Now the location of a call can be geo-tagged and sent straight to the systems of the police and/or fire department, who can then quickly respond. Similarly, police command can use geo-tagged crime information to plan police beats and station response teams. This data can be continuously updated to allow for better and swifter decision-making.
When seeking to decrease incidents of a specific disease, health departments can map each case of that disease and find “hot spots” or “clusters.” They can then layer the map with other information, including pollution levels, literacy levels, crime levels, etc. in an attempt to find correlations that can either help determine causation or can help guide an appropriate response to the health problem.
If you drive, you will occasionally come across a pothole. In the past, reporting that pothole required you to make a phone call and give specific information on the location of the problem. But now, a number of cities are using GIS to make it simple for the public to report potholes and other problems like water leaks, abandoned vehicles, potential gas leaks, graffiti, etc. In these cities, you can use a smartphone app to click on the location of the problem. You can also use the app to see where different problems exist, which can be valuable to community service groups looking to improve the neighborhood, or to residents who simply want to avoid trouble spots.
Bad weather can bring even the biggest cities to a halt. But GIS is helping mitigate the problems created by snowfall, ice, windstorms, and rain. Cities are using GIS to create publicly accessible maps that show where problem-areas exist and where work is being done to resolve the problems. For instance, some cities allow residents to track snow plows so they know which routes are open. Other cities are using GIS to predict where mudslides and flooding may occur, so residents and first responders can prepare for future emergencies.
When it comes to opening a new business, the choice of location can significantly affect your chances of success. Some cities now offer GIS that makes it easier to find the right location for your business. These systems allow you to map available buildings, filtering for square footage, zoning, and building type. You can also overlay property values, traffic density, crime statistics, and just about any other kind of data that could impact your business’s success. Giving people these tools helps cities spur business growth and improve the overall business climate.
The examples above include only a few ways that GIS—and technology in general—is transforming public administration and even criminal justice. If you would like to learn more while acquiring the skills that can help qualify you for a public administration or criminal justice job, you should consider earning a Master of Public Administration (MPA) or an MS in Criminal Justice. When you enroll in an MPA or criminal justice program, you’ll learn about the application of technology and how to deliver services to citizens through plans that are transparent, efficient, and ethical.
Thanks to online education, you don’t have to upend your life to earn your degree. Through an online MPA or criminal justice program, you can complete classes and coursework on a schedule that allows you to keep working full time in your current job. Online learning is a fantastic choice for working adults who want to improve their career possibilities.
GIS is transforming the ways public administrators and criminal justice officials manage our cities. With an online MPA or MS in Criminal Justice degree program, you can put yourself in position to be a part of this exciting trend.
Walden University is an accredited institution offering a wide range of online degree programs. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.
*Federal Geographic Data Committee, Geospatial Programs Supporting All Aspects of Local Government, on the internet at www.fgdc.gov/ngac/ngac-local-gov-gis-best-practices-paper.pdf.
Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.