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GIS Application Development in the Alaska Region

Alaska Support Office
Joni Piercy
National Parks in Alaska are in a unique position. Most Alaska Parks are remote, have limited Internet access, small staff sizes with high turnover, and little or no dedicated GIS staff (“other duties as assigned” users). These conditions present several challenges including the risk of data being lost or unavailable to others, and a high learning curve for users to perform basic GIS functions.

The Alaska Support Office (AKSO) GIS Team has developed several applications intended to mitigate some of these issues and maximize the successful use of GIS in the Alaska Parks. This is accomplished through generic tools that emphasize processes rather than tools, and are targeted at the novice or intermittent GIS user in Alaska Parks. Common multi-step tasks have been combined into a button or wizard, tools and terminology are designed to makes sense to resource managers and scientist (rather than just GIS professionals). Additionally, tools are designed to implement “stealth standards” - an approach to implementing data and process standards by providing simple tools that result in consistent and standard formatted datasets without burdening the user.

These applications are supported by extensive online help with an emphasis on process and context, rather than just the particular tool involved. The help includes references to relevant ArcView/Arcmap help topics, and provides staff at remote parks with immediate support.

The NPS Theme Manager is an integrated toolset that organizes, manages and presents large amounts of spatial (and non spatial) data for the user in a simple to use interface. Available “themes” are organized and meaningfully named for resource managers and scientists. These themes consist of the spatial data source, symbology, display options, metadata, and linked documents, images or applications (such as AutoCAD Drawings). With a few mouse clicks a user can easily locate and display any of the more than 1500 themes available in the Alaska Region. Additionally, users can develop their own theme lists to manage and share their data. This tool is a critical component of our data cycle and is the standard tool for GIS data management in the National Park Service’s Inventory and Monitoring program.

The Data Cycle is a process that is employed by the Alaska region to ensure that important data is not lost, incomplete, undocumented or of inadequate quality. The procedure involves working with park staff or other data creators to capture potential datasets into the regional “Permanent Data Set”. Metadata, symbology, linkages and display options are generated and the certified datasets are made available to the entire region (unless it is sensitive data) through the Theme Manager. Each Alaska Park receives nightly updates of the Permanent Data Set over the wide area network (WAN). Data is also posted on the NPS GIS clearinghouse.

The AlaskaPak Toolkit is a collection of useful GIS tools – a sort of “Swiss Army Knife” for GIS. AlaskaPak includes productivity, analysis, import/export and display tools targeted toward common tasks performed by novice GIS users.

The wide range of functions include routines for importing, processing and animating animal tracking collar telemetry data, a routine to obscure exact locations in sensitive datasets, and a “layout wizard” that simplifies the creation of standard NPS Identity Project formatted map layouts with a few button clicks. Additionally, several tools can be used for developing effective sampling strategies, such as a grid generator that creates regular grids (points and/or boxes), a random selection function that applies stochastic techniques, and an analysis tool that will compare the sampling approach against any vector or raster dataset to see if the strategy successfully represents the data’s distribution.

The NPS FirePak consists of tools for processing daily fire perimeters and assigning standard attributes. FirePak provides a very simple and quick way for fire specialists to map fires while generating datasets that meet the National Interagency Fire Perimeter standard format.

The ArcView to Access Link is a generic tool that will allow any ArcView project to be real-time linked to any MS Access database. Features can be graphically selected in an Arcview map and the associated records viewed in an Access Form, Query, Table or Report. Conversely, selected records in Access can be displayed in an ArcView Map. This technology allows true Relational Database (RDBMS) technology to be exploited from an ArcView environment.

Future Directions: These applications are currently being implemented in ArcGIS and will be supported in both ArcView3x and ArcGIS for the near future. Other approaches to data distribution being considered include Internet based applications and Map Services for data distribution.
April 08, 2004