FiRe 2013 Theme: Open GIS Data Creates Value

By Brenda Cooper

FiRe is always a windstorm of information, but specific themes usually shine through presentations that, on the surface at least, seem disparate.  I’ll talk about one of those from FiRe 2013:  the marriage of big data and GIS.

The conference opened with a look at NASA’s World Wind, an open data and open-source GIS tool. World Wind was intended to simply facilitate education, but it proved so extensible that it is now used in higher ed, by small businesses and by the DOD. It is an excellent way to see federated high level data and specific local data.

“Almost all data has GIS tags now and can be tracked and found,” FiRe Chair Mark Anderson said. “For example, a sweater is built in the Philippines, sent to the US, tagged in New York, and sold in a Nordstrom’s in LA to customer Jane Doe.”  We were also offered a World Wind user story:  Trillium Learning is networking students from around the world to solve global problems.

Following the discussion of World Wind, we were treated to an early look at, a beta product that uses the World Wind platform and marries collaboration tools with big GIS data. Already, has more than two million layers of indexed data. It looked to me that, when it formally launches, it will be a useful and well-developed tool.

As a local government CIO, I know that GIS data is the beating heart of our information infrastructure.  What we’ve seen so far speaks to that and to using that data to solve urgent global problems like climate change, toxicity and water distribution.  We need it to save species.  We need it to solve social problems.  Globally available open-source GIS data matters.