Noting a central challenge of our time—a lack of understanding and a failure to collaborate—Esri Founder and President Jack Dangermond told an audience of thousands of mapping professionals this week that the work they’re doing would be essential to solving it.
“You are being called upon, at this most critical point in human civilization, to provide the language, to provide the solutions, to provide the methods, and to provide the fundamental infrastructure to help civilization find common ground,” he said Monday at the launch of the 42nd annual Esri User Conference.
It was the first time in three years that the Redlands-based global leader in geographic information systems (GIS) technology had convened its annual user conference in person, attracting more than 14,000 attendees to the San Diego Convention Center.
Taking a Collaborative, Geographic Approach to Tackle Climate Change
David J. Hayes, special assistant to the President for climate policy at the White House, told the crowd he had a “wicked problem” to discuss. Climate change is, “real, it’s here, and it’s scary,” he said, noting that geospatial mapping, “may be the most important weapon we have,” to fight it. The administration’s goals include reducing emissions of greenhouse gasses, accelerating the country’s transition to a clean economy, and making communities more resilient to climate change, while also engaging with the rest of the world and prioritizing equitable solutions.
To do so will require a whole of government approach, he continued. A prototype online portal built by Esri aims to provide a central hub of climate-related information for anyone to access, including links to funding sources, climate indicators, and policy maps.
Hayes emphasized that there’s a need to not only know what’s happening now but to see what could be. “The stakes here for climate couldn’t be higher,” he said.
Wade Crowfoot, secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency, acknowledged that the impacts of climate change—whether prolonged drought or catastrophic wildfires that know no season—can be discouraging but, “solutions abound.”
“Let’s help nature help us survive on this planet,” he told the audience before describing a partnership between the agency and Esri to produce CA Nature, a public portal with data, stories, interactive map views, and a modeler to determine opportunities as the state aims to conserve 30 percent of its land and coastline by 2030. As it is, data shows nearly 24 percent of California is conserved with another 24.2 million acres representing a strong opportunity to protect.
Connecting Head and Heart Through Storytelling to Further Conservation
What good is a journey that might inspire change if you don’t share the story of what was learned? Emphasizing the power of storytelling combined with a geographic approach, National Geographic CEO Jill Tiefenthaler announced to the audience that the 134-year-old publication would launch a Global Storytelling Institute offering master classes in writing and photography.
Conservationist Jane Goodall, author of “Local Voices, Local Choices,” told Dangermond in a recorded interview, that her work establishing the community-led Tacare project to help address poverty and support environmentally sustainable livelihoods in Africa depended on creating partnerships with the people being helped.
“It just makes all the difference if you’re working with the people,” she said. At the conference, the vice president of conservation science for the Jane Goodall Institute, Lilian Pintea, related a moment when villagers were shown a satellite image of their land and identified the features and paths they regularly encountered. “At that moment, we all realized that mapping common ground helped us develop a common language, a common understanding, and it helped develop a trust between us as true partners in conservation,” he said.
Several other organizations demonstrated how Esri technology is already helping map common ground and encourage collaboration:
CERN European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN) which is home to the sprawling underground Hadron Collider, needed a better way of managing several hundred buildings and locating about 15,000 people on site. After customizing an indoor mapping solution, CERN is using ArcGIS to standardize their indoor mapping information and provide additional digital wayfinding.
Egis, which is overseeing the construction of part of a massive expansion to Paris’ underground metro system dubbed the Grand Paris Express, created a central online destination containing needed data for the more than 10,000 workers involved in the project. Each day, Egis and 70 collaborators on the project add shared photos and data to a dashboard to document progress and help the client and project managers make data-driven decisions.
The City of Sioux Falls in South Dakota demonstrated how its Division of Civic Analytics—which had already used reality capture to create a 3D digital model of the city—collaborated with multiple departments to track snowplows in a winter storm, simulate weather conditions and the impact to roads, identify roof risks for firefighting crews and simulate the reach of each ladder truck, and map critical interior assets of a multi-level building to offer better awareness when responding to an incident.
Energy Queensland, which has overhead electricity transmission lines spanning 178,000 kilometers across the Australian state’s sprawling landscape, has been modernizing its utility network to ensure it is prepared for extreme weather events including wildfires and flooding, and readying itself for a future with half of its power coming from renewable energy sources by 2030.
Massachusetts Department of Transportation, or MassDOT, manages 118 transit stations spanning 37,500 miles of road which can make it challenging to distribute funding for infrastructure projects equitably among the state’s cities and towns. Using its MassDOT Engage web app, they utilize a neighborhood’s demographic data to determine where might be the best place to host a meeting or if they’ll need a translator and for what language.
Keynotes Showcase Efforts to Understand Threats to Humans and Nature with Data, Mapping
Ronan Donovan, a National Geographic Explorer and filmmaker, spent eight years exploring the fraught relationship between humans and wolves most recently developing a mapping project to determine where they might best coexist, as well as where there’s likely the most conflict. Zooming in on a map of Park County, Wyoming that sits to the east of Yellowstone he showed the typical path of elk and cattle as herds moved into and out of the park depending on seasons. He was able to also display where wolf packs traveled using data obtained from the GPS collars placed on the wolves inside the park. He hopes to expand the project across every continent and urged the crowd of GIS professionals to collaborate with him pointing them to his ArcGIS StoryMap for the Human-Predator Coexistence Project.
Deanne Criswell, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), said it was essential to not only understand the threats faced in the past with historical data, but to be prepared for the threats of the future, highlighting an example of a US map that showed wildfire probabilities in 2052. “We are looking to data more than we ever have to help drive our decisions and help our people,” she said, imploring those in the audience to help in her agency’s efforts. “I need your ideas, I need your creativity, I need your passion,” she said. “The nation needs you.” She noted the importance of aerial imagery that was available shortly after a tornado made landfall in Kentucky in 2021, allowing her to quickly recommend an emergency declaration to President Biden and arrive within 48 hours of the disaster. She said the agency could also better focus resources after overlaying the path of the tornado on its National Risk Index map showing which neighborhoods were likely most vulnerable. The agency is also sharing information more quickly, doing so digitally, in an online National Response Coordination Center that has improved collaboration. Its Geospatial Resource Center is where the agency hopes to build up data to be more proactive in its efforts. “We have to get ahead of it,” she said. “FEMA is not just response and recovery. We have to pull resilience out of the shadows.”
Honoring mapping work:
Prague Institute of Planning and Development – President’s Award
Personally chosen by Esri President and Founder Jack Dangermond, it is the highest honor given to an organization, recognizing the use of data-driven decision-making to impact the world in a positive way.
The Prague Institute of Planning and Development created a public portal to provide greater visualization and analytics of its municipal plan. By doing so, the city digitally transformed its intelligent planning process to focus on sustainable solutions that could ensure the city’s long-term viability and quality of life and enable it to react quickly to economic and environmental challenges.
Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) – Making a Difference Award
Honors organizations or individuals who, through the use of GIS, have made a positive impact in their community.
The vast region SCAG oversees includes six counties, 191 cities, and more than 19 million residents, who look to the organization to develop long-range transportation plans and a sustainable communities strategy. The organization’s Future Communities Initiative to deploy smart technology and data analytics across its efforts, led to the development of its Regional Data Platform (RDP) launched earlier this year. The RDP serves as a single destination—powered by ArcGIS Hub—for planners, GIS staff, and the public to find and use data, documents, maps, and apps to assist with local planning.
Ordnance Survey – Enterprise GIS Award
Recognizes organizations that have seen increased efficiency, greater collaboration and transparency, and engagement from its internal and external stakeholders.
As Great Britain’s national mapping agency, Ordnance Survey supplies data used to deliver critical infrastructure to the country, manage assets and maintain business operations, update educational curriculum, and provide the public with maps and apps for discovery. With a database of half a billion features updated up to 20,000 times a day, the agency underwent a digital transformation to an easier-to-manage web-based editing environment it’s calling the Geospatial Production Platform data hub.
New Products and Capabilities:
StoryMaps is a way to communicate geographic knowledge more broadly, now available for personal storytelling and social sharing.
ArcGIS GeoAnalytics Engine makes it possible to process and analyze large amounts of data by leveraging the power of distributed processing with Spark, such as tens of millions of anonymized cell phone records as demonstrated during the conference using data from Ookla, an app that consumers can use to test their data speed. Processing and analyzing the data could help telecom operators better visualize their coverage, including underserved areas.
ArcGIS Knowledge blends graph and spatial analysis to solve complex geographic problems using spatial and non-spatial data as an optional capability for ArcGIS Enterprise. For example, shipments of critical medication sent to a state’s hospitals and health clinics during a hurricane could be traced to visualize what went where, and where needs may exist in the future. The hybrid approach to understanding data in the context of spatial and non-spatial relationships can help drive more informed, data-driven decisions including scenarios that may involve criminal investigations, examining consumer spending habits, or understanding the supply chain.
ArcGIS Maps SDK for game engines such as Unity and Unreal Engine empower developers to create simulation-style applications using GIS for a fully immersive experience.
ArcGIS IPS brings GPS indoors by enabling organizations to add indoor location services across their facilities and campuses, allowing a person’s whereabouts to be visible inside a building. The product is available to use through Esri’s ArcGIS Indoors mobile application and custom apps created using ArcGIS Runtime SDKs. The indoor wayfinding is made possible by installing Bluetooth beacons inside buildings that send out radio signals picked up by devices.
For more from the 2022 Esri User Conference, check out videos from the plenary session online.