GIS Empowers Emergency Response and Public Health Awareness PDF Print E-mail
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Wednesday, 25 November 2009 08:29
This solution was implemented in South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.
A public health organization needed an efficient way to serve health data and emergency information to the public
  • Serve data to an audience with diverse technical capabilities and varied needs
  • Leverage information with limited resources
  • Allow different levels of access to information
  • Integrate disparate systems
  • Keep data current and well documented


  • Procedures have been developed to keep documented GIS layers accessible, current and well
  • Health problems can now be studied below country – level boundaries without expending a large amount of tiem and manual labor
  • Public health data and emergency information is accessible over the Internet to those who need it
State-level public health agencies regularly deal with issues that require large amounts of data to be processed, integrated, analyzed, and distributed to many different end users. End users comprise a diverse internal and external group including concerned citizens, community organizations, health care workers and administrators, university researchers, and other state agencies. Within each group, technical capabilities and needs vary. With limited resources, these agencies need to determine the most appropriate way to make information available. Time and budget constraints, agency cooperation and collaboration, enterprise architecture, legacy processes, privacy concerns, and existing infrastructure are some of the issues. To facilitate most of this data processing, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (SC DHEC) has turned to geographic information system (GIS) technology.
The Challenge
Division of Biostatistics and Health GIS, a subset of the Public Health Statistics and Information
Services (PHSIS) program within SC DHEC, knew it needed a way to serve its users’ geographically based public health and emergency management information. With limited resources, the agency had to determine the most appropriate way to leverage this information. It needed to allow access in a way that accommodates its diverse audience while aiding the daily decision-making process in public health assessment and surveillance. Different levels of access to this information had to be available with ample security measures in place. In addition, since the data resided in various formats on multiple servers running different operating systems and relational database management systems, it all needed to be integrated and accessible
to everyone. Once the data was integrated, it also needed to be current and well documented. Knowing these challenges, SC DHEC went looking for an innovative solution to serving the public necessary information.
The Solution
To address these issues, the division employed a diverse set of GIS technologies from ESRI, chosen because most state and city organizations in South Carolina used ESRI®  software as a standard. SC DHEC adopted ArxcSDE® and Microsoft SQL Server for managing the statewide maps and data and ArcIMS®  and ArcIMS Route Server to serve information and provide driving directions and routing capabilities on the Internet. SC DHEC deployed the system on HP ProLiant rack-mounted servers to streamline integration and facilitate load-balancing requests.
Using ArcGIS®  and various extensions including StreetMap™, along with the state E-911 street centerline file for accurate street data, users can create tables, charts, and maps according to their interests and specifications at the SC DHEC region, county, or ZIP Code level. Birth and death certificate data and demographics were the first datasets available on the South Carolina Community Assessment Network (SCAN) system ( Newer datasets include Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System, cancer incidence data from the South Carolina Central Cancer Registry, and more.

Each dataset has a series of pages related to it: Create a Table, Example, Definitions, Variable Information, Generate a Map, FAQs, and Links. The Generate a Map page allows the user to create interactive maps for any variables the user has selected. These maps display statistics the user has selected as well as supplemental reference information such as the location of health regions and facilities, major cities, and street networks. The user can ask questions about this data through the mapping interface to determine, for example, which counties have a population above a certain threshold or how many health facilities are in a specific user-defined area.

The Results
The Division of Biostatistics and Health GIS serves as a model for GIS use. SCAN has proven to be an indispensable interactive data retrieval system for community assessment, planning,
and health practices. The GIS keeps data current and accessible.
Before, it had been almost impossible to study health problems below county-level boundaries without expending a tremendous amount of time and manual labor. The Shelter Navigation system makes it easy for the public to find shelters, and SC DHEC can monitor and track shelters and evacuees efficiently when needed.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 19 October 2010 00:06
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