Public Health

New Health GIS Tutorial: Preparing a Foundational Geodatabase for Health Emergencies

In today’s world, health emergencies have become a serious global concern. Epidemics, pandemics, and other health crises can have devastating effects on communities and require coordinated responses. Geographic information system (GIS) technology has emerged as an essential tool for public health professionals to analyze and visualize data to make better-informed decisions during these emergencies. As with just about any other workflow, having data at the ready is key. This blog post will introduce you to a new hands-on ArcGIS tutorial that walks through how you can prepare a foundational geodatabase for health emergencies, using ArcGIS Pro. The link to the tutorial is provided below:

Prepare a foundational geodatabase for a health emergency

Responding to and managing health emergencies is stressful at times, with many lives and resources at stake. To lighten the mood, this tutorial scenario uses a fictional cooties outbreak as an example for building a geodatabase.

Group of children laying down.

Overview of the tutorial

Designed to guide you through the process of creating a foundational geodatabase for health emergencies, the tutorial uses real-world data and synthetic data to understand the spatial relationships and patterns of a fictional cooties outbreak. Learners will gain practice in setting up, populating, and working with a geodatabase which is a powerful tool for storing, managing, and analyzing spatial data. The tutorial covers the following key points:

Collect data from various sources

Health emergencies often require data from multiple sources, such as demographic information, health facility locations, case information, and more. Collecting data on a schedule to keep information up to date is a best practice. Gain experience with filtering and downloading data from public websites, ArcGIS Living Atlas of the World, and of course, working with spreadsheet data. You’ll need a comprehensive group of data layers to address a public health emergency.

Homeland Infrastructure Foundation-Level Data website.

Prepare a geodatabase for health emergencies

You’ll use ArcGIS Pro to create a new geodatabase. You can think of this as the framework or infrastructure for managing your data layers. The tutorial demonstrates how to integrate all the data into your geodatabase, ensuring that it is properly aligned and formatted for seamless analysis. An important component of your foundational geodatabase is metadata, which is literally data about your data. Keeping this information up to date will improve the accuracy and consistency of your data. When an emergency happens, you want to know exactly what you have available to support analysis and make decisions.

Metadata for a health emergency geodatabase.

Organize data within the geodatabase

Once the geodatabase is set up, it is crucial to populate it and organize the data within. The tutorial guides you through the process of creating feature datasets, such as administrative boundaries, health facilities, and day care centers, and importing corresponding data into them. Since you want your geodatabase to be a dynamic tool, used as response efforts evolve, you’ll also learn how to define an attribute domain to identify the operational status of each facility. Attribute domains are rules that constrain the values that can be stored in a particular field. For example, if a hospital is on divert or closed, you would definitely want a field that captures that information.

Set up and organize a health emergency geodatabase.

Set up a geoprocessing workflow

Once you’ve done the work of setting up the geodatabase, this tutorial offers you a greater sense of accomplishment by walking through a geoprocessing workflow in which you put data layers together in a stylized map visualization that would begin to provide the situational awareness needed to initiate response activities.

Multiple data layers combined on one map.

Health emergencies require quick and informed decision-making to protect the well-being of communities. GIS is a powerful tool for analyzing and visualizing spatial data related to these emergencies, enabling public health professionals to make data-informed decisions. The tutorial linked above provides a useful guide to creating a foundational geodatabase for health emergencies, helping you take your first steps in applying GIS to address health preparedness needs.

For more tutorials like this, see the Health GIS Curriculum, designed for enhancing and modernizing the geospatial capacity of health stakeholders. From essential GIS concepts to analytics, field work and collaboration, learners will gain a breadth of experience using GIS with multiple ArcGIS software products.

About the authors

Dr. Este Geraghty, MD, MS, MPH, CPH, GISP, is the Chief Medical Officer at Esri where she leads strategy and messaging for the Health and Human Services sector. Dr. Geraghty has been with Esri since 2014 and has led business development and solution development in the market. During her time at Esri, Dr. Geraghty has helped organizations around the world use location intelligence to combat Zika virus, finish the fight against polio, grapple with the opioid crisis, combat homelessness, enhance health preparedness and response, inform strategic planning, optimize healthcare access, and traverse the COVID-19 pandemic while tackling inequity. Formerly the Deputy Director of the Center for Health Statistics and Informatics with the California Department of Public Health, Dr. Geraghty led the state vital records and public health informatics programs. There she engaged in statewide initiatives in meaningful use, health information exchange, open data and interoperability. While serving as an Associate Professor of Clinical Internal Medicine at the University of California at Davis she conducted research on geographic approaches to influencing health policy and advancing community development programs. In addition to her degrees in Medicine, Medical Informatics and Public Health, Dr. Geraghty is also a board-certified public health professional (CPH) and a Geographic Information Systems Professional (GISP).


Jeff Baranyi

Jeff Baranyi currently serves as the Emergency Management and Fire Technical Lead on the Esri Public Safety Team. He is responsible for working closely with Esri’s Public Safety team and customers to define and advocate a set of industry focused solutions that promote the vision and value of the ArcGIS platform. Jeff also is the Operations Manager for the Esri Disaster Response Program (DRP). He is responsible for ensuring the program is operating effectively to support organizations and agencies impacted by complex emergencies and crisis.

Niki Wong

Niki Wong, MPH, is a Product Engineer on Esri’s Learn ArcGIS Team where she serves as a GIS Content Engineer. She has authored and refined several Learn Lessons with public health and racial equity scenarios and co-led the development the Delete the Divide GIS pathway curriculum with Los Angeles County and the Health Information System Modernization GIS curriculum. Formerly the Policy and Community Organizing Director of Redeemer Community Partnership, Niki led environmental health and active transportation policy advocacy efforts in South Los Angeles and experienced firsthand the power of GIS to make impactful, positive change in historically underserved communities. She served as a commissioner on the Los Angeles County Community Prevention and Population Health Taskforce from 2018-2020. Niki received a Master’s in Public Health from the University of Texas Health Science Center and a B.A. in Urban Studies from Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas.

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