The wonderful thing about GIS is that it allowed us to take environmental health data that was so difficult to compile in other platforms, and consolidate it so we could easily share it with the public.
Kansas Enhances Environmental Health with GIS Technology
Many governments are leveraging advanced technology to visualize how environmental health is connected to public health. Air pollution, tick-borne disease, and lead exposure are all examples of environmental conditions that impact public health. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) studies and analyzes these connections as part of its core mission to protect and improve the health and environment of all Kansans. One of the ways it supports this mission is by providing local government jurisdictions, researchers, and the public with data so that they can make better, more informed decisions when it comes to public health.
Within KDHE, the Kansas Environmental Public Health Tracking program (Tracking) is responsible for collecting, preparing, and sharing environmental health data. In 2020, the Tracking program began a large-scale project to modernize its existing website. A new data explorer was identified as critical for the project, as the existing platform was outdated and difficult to use and failed to meet minimum standards established for data display. Historically, the program struggled to find a platform that could accommodate data for a large number of topics with varying complexity. The program needed an integrated software solution that was capable of handling data of differing data types (point versus polygon), geographies, time periods, and stratifications. Staff found what they needed in geographic information system (GIS) technology. GIS was the best option for mapping capabilities, widget configurations, and products for data visualizations.
Accessible Data Promotes Data-Driven Decisions
"Not many programs besides environmental health cover the disparate datasets like we do. So it was very difficult to find a software that could handle rabies data and something like cancer data at the same time, GIS was the one software we found that could actually do that for our program," said Jessica Willard, Environmental Health Section program director.
The State of Kansas is a longtime user of GIS technology. However, until this point, staff considered GIS a mapping software and were unaware of its data interoperability capabilities. It wasn't until they identified greater data needs that required making this data publicly available that they considered GIS software as a data portal.
"Not many programs besides environmental health cover the disparate datasets like we do. So it was very difficult to find a software that could handle rabies data and something like cancer data at the same time," said Jessica Willard, Environmental Health Section program director. "GIS was the one software we found that could actually do that for our program."
Before GIS, KDHE had to use multiple types of software to complete a single task, which increased data processing time and inserted limitations into how the data could be filtered and displayed. This was time-consuming; was not very interactive; and did not provide decision-makers with real-time data they could leverage for policy development, program planning, or grant applications. Now, Tracking staff were able to create a new, innovative interactive data explorer that allows users to examine and discover environmental health data in a variety of ways. Built on ArcGIS Experience Builder, which amplifies data, maps, and apps all in one place.
In addition to interactive visualizations, the data explorer enables users to download the data with just a few clicks. Further enhancements were made to the data explorer with the addition of county profiles. Staff leveraged the flexibility of ArcGIS Experience Builder to seamlessly incorporate profiles developed in the demographics mapping software ArcGIS Business Analyst, and combined environmental health data with census demographics to produce customized profiles for all 105 counties in Kansas. Profiles can easily be accessed using the county profiles link in the header of the data explorer.
GIS Advances Data Interoperability
Leveraging the diverse options available through Esri technology, KDHE was able to combine more than 10 disparate datasets and put them all into one easy-to-use website. With the standardization of the main enterprise geodatabase, the data explorer is inherently designed to expand as new datasets become available. The Tracking program already has plans to add background radiation, extreme weather events, and other datasets as research is completed and compiled.
"The wonderful thing about GIS is that it allowed us to take environmental health data that was so difficult to compile in other platforms, and consolidate it so we could easily share it with the public," said Willard.