Although the field of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) has
been around for many years, it is a technology being used more often to
inform prevention activities. Data mapping has numerous advantages,
yet it is not always readily apparent which initiatives will benefit
most from its application.
Over the past several years,
the staff at EVALCORP has increasingly applied GIS technology to our
work helping clients to inform and measure the impact of environmental
prevention initiatives in counties across Southern California. For
instance, we have created maps for clients depicting alcohol-related
billboards and documenting oversaturation in predominantly
Spanish-speaking communities. Other maps we created identified 'head
shops' (places known to sell drug paraphernalia) including their
distances from schools and parks. Others highlighted where DUI arrests
and/or alcohol-involved collisions cluster.
In 2006, we
began developing maps stemming from data collected through Ventura
County Behavioral Health Department (VCBH) Alcohol and Drug Programs'
Place of Last Drink Survey. These maps were built to assist the County
and their community partners know which retail establishments
contributed to the greatest proportion of DUI arrests, as well as the
impact impaired driving has on surrounding communities.*
put, GIS is a tool for analyzing and presenting data visually in the
form of maps. This visual representation of your data makes it quickly
digestible for all with whom you need to communicate - your staff,
partners, and community alike.
So how do you use it
successfully? Our work with VCBH Alcohol and Drug Programs -
Prevention Services is one case example of the power of GIS.
we developed a master database comprised of thousands of the County's
Place of Last Drink (POLD) Survey. This survey is completed by people
arrested for impaired driving and enrolled in Ventura County's DUI
Program. The POLD Survey allows ADP and their community partners to
identify the places, settings and circumstances associated with
We then developed a map
representing the bars, clubs, and restaurants mentioned most frequently
as the last place an impaired driver consumed alcohol prior to arrest
(see below). Colored dots of varying size were used to denote retail
alcohol establishments. Dotted lines were used to indicate how far
people drove, on average, before getting pulled over. This information
allowed people to see the impact impaired driving can have on
surrounding neighborhoods and communities.
map helped highlight the gravity of the problem in a way a table of
numbers never would have done. As a result, it helped VCBH share with
law enforcement and the community at large information useful for
prevention planning and strategy development.
their partners are currently engaged in multiple effective initiatives
designed to reduce impaired driving, decrease collisions, and save
Whereas graphs, tables and charts are effective tools for communicating information, maps paint a picture and often tell a story, which can be even more powerful depending on your needs or objectives.
So how do you decide when to use GIS mapping? Here are a few starter questions to ask:
- Is your service or intervention influenced by where your target population is located?
- Can mapping help you answer an assessment/evaluation question better than traditional presentation methods?
you collect your data to include some level of identifying geographic
location (such as exact address, zip code, or city name)?
- Do you have access to other publicly available data that can be mapped to help you answer the question?
- Who is your audience and how responsive are they to visual presentation?
Please contact us if you'd like to know more about GIS mapping or find out how it could help inform your initiatives.
noting is that although EVALCORP began developing data maps for VCBH
several years ago, others before us effectively applied the use of GIS
for crime mapping, zoning, policy development and other prevention
efforts. For example, see County of Ventura GIS, and the work of Dr. Fried Wittman.