Cobb County Uses a GIS Hub to Keep Residents Informed and Safe
Cobb County, Georgia, is fighting back against the direct and indirect impacts of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak, which is threatening the county's 770,000 citizens.
When an emerging—and unpredictable—threat to public health and safety such as this encroaches on the doorstep of local communities, it can be very difficult for citizens to know what information they can trust and whom they should listen to.
Cobb County has taken swift, decisive action to instill confidence among its constituents with a new disaster response solution from Esri. The county's COVID-19 Community Hub is helping protect the local community against the proliferation and spread of the coronavirus, providing authoritative, location-based data and critical resources from statewide agencies in a new online platform.
Mobilizing a Collaborative Multi-Agency Emergency Response
The accelerating and widening spread of COVID-19 across the entire country required Cobb County's geographic information system (GIS) team to act quickly, in coordination with county management, to help safeguard the health and safety of their community. To do so, they needed to configure a new, centrally located online GIS hub solution that could rapidly engage and inform their constituents, providing geospatial data and community-driven resources in near real time on interactive dashboards, smart maps, and applications.
"This pandemic is having a tremendous impact on our own community, and we want to make sure that we're addressing the current needs of our citizens," said Jennifer Lana, GIS manager for Cobb County. "We are directly supporting not just the community as a whole but our families, our neighbors, and people that we talk to every day. And as this emerging threat grows, we need to be the source of authoritative data. We want them to trust us as not only the people that give the data but also as fellow community members."
A "new normal" also required Cobb County's 35-member GIS team to adhere to the state's shelter-in-place guidance. This new dynamic, requiring that the entire project workflow be completed remotely, didn't make their task of taking on the growing threat any easier.
"Because we have such a strong relationship with the county's management team, when they needed to quickly get critical information out to the public, they came directly to us," said Lana. "We had been tracking our own department data on very simple maps and posting them on a static web page. Given the escalating situation, [the management team] requested we help them share the COVID-19 data and statistics on interactive maps, because that's what everybody was asking for."
To help meet the fluid set of dynamic challenges they face, Cobb County staff are prioritizing GIS data at the core of their coordinated response to the emerging public health threat. By utilizing location intelligence, they are helping keep local citizens safe, fully informed, and situationally aware with critical data and valuable resources—visualized on interactive maps and apps in the county's COVID-19 Community Hub.
Providing a Go-To Destination for Critical Resources
As the coronavirus disease outbreak continued to spread across the state, the county's GIS department turned to the COVID-19 GIS Hub solution template, built by Esri's disaster response team. The GIS department began adopting and configuring Esri's ready-to-use datasets and applications, including interactive smart maps and dashboards, to build out the county's own unique solution, the COVID-19 Community Hub.
"We really wanted to make sure our hub and the critical data in it were fully interactive for people. Our team's history of direct engagement with our local community built a foundation of trust, positioning us as a reliable data source that can be counted on in an emergency," said Lana. "So when this situation began, we asked for feedback from the local community. Getting that direct input—whether it's via social media, email, or our crowdsourced surveys—helped inform our decision-making on what applications we needed to incorporate from Esri's COVID-19 GIS Hub, then build out and deploy."
In just two days, Cobb County built and deployed the COVID-19 Community Hub using ArcGIS Online. The COVID-19 Community Hub is providing full transparency into the county's coordinated disaster response to this outbreak. Location-based data—ranging from the status of emergency medical facilities to the precise inventory levels of essential items at all of the county's grocery stores—is being used to track community spread of COVID-19 as well as to provide valuable local resources and services.
Compatible with mobile devices, the new Community Hub is providing near real-time authoritative data on all active cases and fatalities, at the county, state, and national scales via interactive smart maps, dashboards, and planning reports. Citizens can drill down on that data and view current incidence by date, frequency, and severity.
Smart maps share vulnerable-population areas, while interactive impact planning reports provide valuable insights on the pandemic, with critical numbers and key indicators of trends and patterns. Additionally, citizens can stay fully aware—a central location unites all the latest news and announcements from the county communications department and partner agencies. This information includes FAQs, videos, news releases, and official emergency orders in addition to live social media and video updates via feeds from the county, statewide agencies, and area schools.
"The sheer size and nature of this epidemic presented the right opportunity to use all of the geospatial capabilities available in the COVID-19 GIS Hub as a central access point for monitoring and data and support," said Lana.
Highlighted resources available in the COVID-19 Community Hub include the following:
The Grocery Stores hub page has gained national attention and distinguished Cobb County as the first local government in the country to provide its citizens with an interactive map and dashboard that capture and display inventory levels of essential goods available in individual grocery stores. This innovative application has proved to offer a huge advantage for residents, given the shelter-in-place orders that restrict people's ability to head out for essential items whenever they desire.
Citizens can now see—before they leave the house—which grocery stores are stocked with the items they are looking for as well as each store's social distancing guidelines and availability of seniors-only shopping hours. The inventory data driving this new effort comes from over 500 fellow shoppers who, using the Survey123 for ArcGIS application, have completed a crowdsourced information-sharing survey reflecting their in-store experience.
The Emergency and Medical web map provides the locations and status of all local hospitals and medical facilities, urgent care centers, drugstores, and dialysis facilities.
The Food Resources story map provides the locations of Cobb County School District food pickup sites, food pantries, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) resources, community gardens, and farmers markets.
The Restaurant Reporter Survey hub page is powered by a crowdsourced survey, feeding interactive smart maps that showcase restaurant locations and pickup/delivery information.
The Life Is Good in Cobb County story map provides an innovative way for the local community to stay connected, positive, and "share the vibe." Citizens are uploading items—inspirational photos; thank-you notes; and images of birds, spring flowers, signs on the road, people smiling, and so forth—to the county's story map.
The COVID-19 Emergency Order application allows citizens to report potential violations of the county's emergency declaration related to business, crowds, and facilities. The data collected from the Survey123 app is visualized and analyzed on an internal-only smart map used by enforcement agencies to help keep local citizens safe.
Protecting the Community with a Map-Based Understanding of Risk
With over 200,000 unique visits to date, the new COVID-19 Community Hub is serving as the foundation for all of the county's emergency communications channels. It is providing a fully transparent view into the emergency response effort for local citizens. This is made possible with an easy-to-access online site featuring a holistic view of the wide-ranging impacts of the outbreak—and the resources to stay safe from them.
"Our new Community Hub has proven to be a very effective tool to take on this situation. The interactive capabilities of this solution give us the ability to effectively engage local citizens, which has been great," said Lana. "The mobile-friendly features and resources that it provides have allowed us to directly respond to the urgent needs of the people in our community."
The Community Hub's dashboards are capturing and communicating COVID-19 data, which is effectively conveying a real-time, map-based understanding of community spread. This is helping to drive awareness of evolving risk factors and reinforce the urgent need for extreme caution to all citizens.
Sharing location-based data in near real time on interactive smart maps and dashboards detailing the scope, scale, and community spread of this pandemic is also helping prioritize the county's emergency disaster response. Increased situational awareness and a common operating picture are enabling stronger collaboration, communication, and coordination among county and state government agencies. This is helping to ensure that vital resources and assets are available to help save lives.
"This is obviously a very different challenge than any of us have ever experienced. The response is a lot different. It is highly personal," said Lana. "We are directly supporting our neighbors, our schools, and the local businesses and organizations all around us. It's important to recognize that while this is our job—fulfilling our roles as county employees—we also live here. We are a part of this community."
This pandemic is having a tremendous impact on our own community. We want to make sure that we're addressing the needs of our citizens. We are supporting not just the community as a whole, but our families, our neighbors, and people we talk to every day.