As a small business owner, I know the challenges of keeping the lights on and the doors open even during a good day, let alone a global pandemic. That's why I am proud of the work we have done in local government to support our local businesses, from short-term bridge loans to innovative mapping solutions that engage customers and drive interest."
Leon County Supports Local Businesses during COVID-19 Pandemic
The current coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, although considered a public health crisis, is putting economic strain on small businesses, which account for the bulk of US employment.
While many shops have had to close, others are staying open but facing new challenges. Customers searching for providers of essential services—grocery stores, pharmacies, or banks—don't always know which businesses are still open. In response, jurisdictions across the country are working on ways to help connect residents and businesses.
In Leon County, Florida, the Office of Economic Vitality (OEV) and the GIS department recognized the need early on to support the community as well as local businesses. They are using maps and apps to provide an authoritative view of locations open for takeout, delivery, drive-through, and curbside pickup.
Repurposing an Application from the Past
Leon County, located in Florida's panhandle, has been hit by several hurricanes in recent years. During those disasters, the county stood up a web map application that identified which businesses had power and were open and selling goods to the public. The COVID-19 pandemic has put stress once again on Leon County businesses that are delivering essential services.
"After three hurricanes in the past four years, we know that every disaster tests us differently," said Vincent S. Long, Leon County administrator. "One thing remains constant: our team's ability to find unique and effective ways to address the challenges facing our community. And these opportunities are made possible by the highest levels of leadership at Esri who know how integral technology can be in protecting public safety."
With a workflow and web map application similar to those used in past disasters, Leon County GIS staff were able to extract location data for all area businesses and filter out nonessential operations. They used ArcGIS Online, a software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform that supports data maintenance and visualization through interactive web maps. Once staff filtered data down to places that serve and sell food, they were able to quickly create the Open for Takeout Map.
"At that point, everyone in our team was working remotely, and within a day and a half, we were able to stand up the application for businesses serving and selling food throughout the community," said Ned Cake, GIS integration manager for Leon County.
Community Helps Government Deliver Better Service
The Open for Takeout Map also empowers the entire community to update business information such as available services, hours, and other details. By crowdsourcing each business's information, the county government can have a dialogue with residents and provide a valuable service quickly. Crowdsourced information is routed to the OEV; once approved, the information goes live in the application.
"Standing up this application not only provided a purpose and met a need within the community during such a critical time, but it's pushed web mapping technology into the hands of those who do not typically use maps," said Scott Weisman, GIS program coordinator. "Another great thing we were able to do was provide editing capabilities to OEV staff members, so now non-GIS users can update business information faster and have ownership of this application."
Keeping residents informed of the hours and service details of essential businesses can be a daunting task for any local government. By crowdsourcing data from the public and empowering nontraditional GIS users with the latest mapping technology, Leon County continues to provide vital resources such as the Open for Takeout Map. Within the first two weeks of standing up the application, the map had 30,000 views.
The story of Leon County, Florida, is just one example of how organizations are using GIS to respond and operate more effectively during the COVID-19 crisis. This effort can be replicated in communities across the globe.
Esri is dedicated to supporting the efforts of many organizations through software, technical support, and resources. Some examples include the following:
- The Esri COVID-19 site connects organizations with insights, information, and updates.
- The COVID-19 GIS Hub provides a definitive resource for data, solutions, FAQs, and best practices to help organizations get started.
- The Esri Disaster Response Program (DRP) assists organizations with GIS software needs, technical support, services, and data. For immediate assistance, submit a Request for Assistance form. Requests are monitored 24/7.
As GIS technology continues to support organizations worldwide through this crisis, Esri will gather best practices and share lessons learned from jurisdictions around the globe to provide a greater understanding of and inspiration for COVID-19 response efforts.