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GISCorps Newsletter


GIS Professionals Volunteering for a Better World

August 2015
A Message from the Core Committee
Greetings Volunteers and Friends:

Summer doldrums have bypassed GISCorps: this has been another busy and fruitful quarter for URISA's GISCorps and its amazing volunteers and supporters, which now number 6,190!

We have been engaged in 5 new projects, have completed 7 missions and are processing new requests on a regular basis. The total number of projects is now at 169 with over 804 volunteers working on projects in over 61 countries around the world.

In this issue's Missions in Progress section, we highlight five projects. Read about: our volunteers who traveled to Uganda to teach GIS, efforts to assist in the US preparedness for Ebola, a GSDI project in Ecuador, and two crowdsourcing projects for TerraWatchers and UN's GeoTag-X.

As for the new projects, 29 volunteers assisted in the Terrawatchers project evaluating damage to archeological sites in the Middle East; 36 volunteers participated in a GeoTag-X sprint evaluating drought conditions in Somalia and temporary shelters in the Middle East; two volunteers were deployed to Kabul, Afghanistan to teach GIS and remote sensing; a volunteer is assisting AAAS in evaluating imagery in Syria; and a volunteer is making ArcGIS Online maps for ACAPS in Nepal. You can read a summary of each of these remarkable projects in our "Projects in Progress" web page.

We had a great display and session at the Esri User Conference again this year (see article later in this newsletter). It was great to catch up with volunteers and friends.

We are thankful for your continued support of GISCorps and grateful to our volunteers for their remarkable service.

With most sincere wishes,
GISCorps Core Committee: Dave Litke, Dianne Haley, Heather Milton, Mark Salling, Allen Ibaugh, Carol Kraemer and Shoreh Elhami

P.S. Please email [email protected] if you wish to be removed from this list.

Deployment and Partnership News

Missions in Progress

A total of 11 missions are currently in progress. Detailed accounts of these projects are posted on our Ongoing Projects Page. 

GISCorps Volunteers Teach GIS and Remote Sensing at Kabale University in Uganda
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources at Kabale University (KAB) in southwestern Uganda requested GISCorps volunteers to teach GIS/Remote Sensing to their faculty members. KAB intends to establish a GIS Centre including training departmental staff in aspects of GIS/Remote sensing with specific focus on: Database management systems, Raster based ELTs, Vector based GIS software, as well as Open Source tools and other programs relevant to successful implementation of the GIS Centre. 
Two volunteers were selected for this project and were in Uganda from March to April, 2015. They were Joey Abrams, a Senior Systems Analyst with Vencore, Inc in Virginia and Adam McKay, a Data Analyst with Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care in Toronto, Canada. Read more here.


GISCorps Assists with Ebola Response Mapping for National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO)
Volunteer: Ian Dunn, Software Specialist with the City of Perrysburg, Ohio
Public health professionals are privy to much data: community demographics, restaurant scores, obesity rates, and on and on. However, that data is not always interpreted in tangible, visually appealing ways. In the worst cases it gets stored in Excel spreadsheets or stuffed into paper files. In the best cases, public health officials turn to mapping software. But even then, users may not be taking full advantage of the features a GIS has to offer. One of NACCHO's primary needs was to identify and map cities that were destinations for airline routes from Ebola-affected countries in West Africa. The primary goal behind collecting airline route data was to foster preparedness amongst local health departments and other public health agencies. The most likely method for the Ebola Virus arriving in the United States is via air travel (which is in fact what happened). It is very important to identify where people might show up with Ebola so that Local Health Departments can prepare accordingly. Read more here.

GISCorps Assists with GSDI Research in Latin America
Volunteer: Daniel Mihalov, GIS Specialist & Technical Writer at UrbanGIS, Chicago, IL
Efforts to assist in the development of spatial data infrastructure are ongoing worldwide. Some national programs are well developed, but others are in their initial development phases. The Global Spatial Data Infrastructure Association (GSDI) promotes development of standards and practices worldwide, and also uses its Small Grants Program to stimulate such efforts in areas and nations struggling to establish sustainable programs. Its objective is to "...promote international cooperation and collaboration in support of local, national and international spatial data infrastructure developments that will allow nations to better address social, economic, and environmental issues of pressing importance." GISCorps has been a partner since 2005 in providing volunteers to assist with several such efforts.

Last year, a consortium of universities in Latin America applied to the GSDI Association requesting assistance from GISCorps in documenting progress and trends and identifying challenges in developing GSDI in Latin America. Assisted by GISCorps volunteer Daniel Mihalov, the group completed a project titled "Studying the implementation of the new SDI trends in Latin America Region through use cases focused on the Latin American needs and context". Read more here.

Crowdsource Project Examines Damage to Archaeological Sites
TerraWatchers, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing web-based, crowdsourced satellite image monitoring, asked GISCorps to assist in testing their prototype application which examines the impact of military activity and looting on archaeological sites in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. There are thousands of archaeological sites in this area, and it is not well documented how many have been looted or commandeered for military purposes. During June and July of 2015, sixty-six GISCorps volunteers used the TerraWatcher website to examine over 2,500 archaeological sites for disturbances. Volunteers also commented on website design and offered suggestions for improving it. Read more here.

GISCorps Assists on United Nations GeoTag-X Project
The United Nations imagery analysis program (UNITAR-UNOSAT) is developing a new crowdsource platform called GeoTag-X for analyzing photos and videos. In June and July of 2015, GISCorps, along with the non-profit organization Humanity Road, participated in a 'data sprint' to test this platform in two real-world situations: identifying livestock and crop conditions resulting from a drought in Somalia; and geotagging emergency shelters in the Middle East and evaluating their readiness for winter. During the sprint, a total of 84 volunteers evaluated more than 7,000 photos. In addition to providing this humanitarian response data, volunteers made suggestions on improving the GeoTag-X application which have already been implemented. Read more here.

Read more about other completed GISCorps projects here.  
Read more about projects in progress here.  

Volunteer Profile 

Names: Charlene Gavette, Leslie Zolman, Jeff Pires

GISCorps Mission / Year servedWorld Health Organization Ebola Response - winter/spring 2015

Share your experience about the mission: 
Charlene: My mission became a mixture of coordination and collaboration on behalf of WHO with other relief agencies in Monrovia, collection and archiving of existing data, writing standardized procedures for standing requests of weekly map production, providing one-on-one mentoring for two new Liberian national WHO GIS employees, providing maps requested by WHO staff, and acting as an advocate for training for WHO and the Liberian national GIS agency.

LeslieI was one of four volunteers that provided GIS support and coordination to the World Health Organization during the Ebola response effort.  Each GISCorps volunteer was deployed to a different country and we worked independently to assist various project but also worked as a team and held weekly conference calls. I was stationed in Accra, Ghana as the GIS Officer for the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER).  Accra was the headquarters for UNMEER and I had the opportunity to work with many groups of people and assist in processing data and preparing maps for them as they traveled in and out of the three affected countries.  Originally I was chosen for the position due to my ArcGIS Online skills, however as the response to the Ebola outbreak changed almost daily so did my duties.  The project that I focused most of my time on was acquiring and cleaning administrative 3 and 4 boundaries for Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.  I also worked with the countries to approve the updated boundaries and databases.  These boundaries then served as a base for the geocoding of cases and allowed WHO to track transmission chains as the number of cases decreased.

JeffAt WHO HQ in Geneva, our GIS Team worked to make the most current spatial information available and intuitive for the response community, partner organizations, and our global audience.

Anything else to share: 
Charlene: GIS has the rare capacity of being a tool that is relevant across the globe and across the spectrum of disciplines. I have been using GIS for many years within the natural resources realm and volunteering my skills to animal conservation groups. This was my first venture into humanitarian activities. The power of this experience will stay with me. Many thanks to GISCorps for allowing me this opportunity.

LeslieBeing deployed to assist in the Ebola response was difficult, stressful, ever changing and an amazing experience that I will never forget!  I learned so much, worked with wonderful people and watched as NGOs, governments, nonprofits and an assortment of other groups all worked under UNMEER to stop the Ebola outbreak. Things did not always run smoothly with different operating structures, cultures and languages but everyone kept their eye on the goal of getting to zero cases. One thing I learned was how important base data such as boundaries, roads, school locations and health clinic locations is during a response effort. It is not the sexiest data to gather but in an emergency it is the base that everything is built upon.

JeffIt was an honor to be a part of such a dedicated team during this important phase of the Ebola response effort.  I am confident that our work will also help to support future WHO initiatives.
To read more stories visit the Volunteer Profiles Page

Conference Update and Other News

Esri's 35th International User Conference
San Diego, California - July 20 -24, 2015
As in the past several years, GISCorps was busy during the Esri UC. Our activities included:
  • Monday: Map Gallery display in the Ebola exhibit area along with the World Health Organization, International Medical Corps, and Direct Relief. Members of the Core Committee and several of our volunteers were at the booth and got their photo taken with Jack Dangermond!
  • Tuesday: "Ebola Communications Capacity Building - ArcGIS and GISCorps to the Rescue" presented by Melodie Grubbs.
  • Wednesday: GISCorps and NetHope were awarded with a Special Achievement in GIS (SAG) Award. 
  • Thursday: Annual Presentation/Meeting. 
  • See some photos of the event here.
Of course, we'll also be at URISA's GIS-Pro 2015 Conference in Spokane, Washington this October.

Digital Humanitarian Network (DHN)
One of our Core Committee members, Heather Milton, is now part of the managing group for DHN (Digital Humanitarian Network). She will be active in this group and involving GISCorps in missions initiated by DHN for emergency response to disastrous events.

The White House Mapathon
In late May, citizen cartographers joined the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and Office of Digital Strategy for the first-ever White House Mapathon and Shoreh Elhami took part in the event.

Thank you for your continued support of URISA's GISCorps!

In This Issue
Message from the Core Committee
Missions in Progress
Featured Projects
Volunteer Profiles

Just about 10 years ago, URISA GISCorps volunteers were deployed to the Gulf Coast for   Hurricane Katrina emergency response. Revisit those missions here.



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GISCorps Core Committee

Shoreh Elhami

Dianne Haley

Allen Ibaugh

Carol Kraemer

Dave Litke   

Heather Milton

Mark Salling


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Also in 2016:
URISA's 2016 Caribbean GIS Conference
September 5-8

GIS-Pro 2016
Oct 31-Nov 3 
Toronto, Ontario Canada
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News from Friends of GISCorps 


Nonprofit Organization Program  


Disaster Response and Assistance


ArcGIS Online for Organizations

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