The term Geographic Information System, or GIS, might not mean a lot to most people.
But Douglas County officials who attended a symposium on that topic today learned that GIS could be an invaluable tool for planning street maintenance throughout the county, creating more efficient busing for public schools and showing firefighters the quickest route to emergency calls.
"The applications are limited only by the imagination," said Rod Bremby, Lawrence assistant city manager, who was one of about 50 people who attended the symposium at Lawrence City Hall.
The symposium on "What is GIS and Why Implement a Multi-Agency GIS Program?" was sponsored by World Geo Solutions, a division of the World Co., parent company of the Journal-World, and TGS Technology Inc. of Fort Collins, Colo.
Laurie Jampolsky, director of World Geo Solutions, told the group that GIS is difficult to define. However, she said it could be described as "a computer system capable of holding and using data describing places on the earth's surface."
JAMPOLSKY said it's easier to understand the usefulness of GIS by looking at specific applications of the technology. For example, she said, if a company wanted to develop a car-pooling plan for employees traveling from their Lawrence homes to a Kansas City office, it might want to know which employees live within a mile of each other and what the shortest route is between those homes.
"With a GIS in place, you can readily come up with those answers in just a few days," Jampolsky said.
City, county and schools officials and business representatives attending the symposium said they could see many other uses for the technology.
Lawrence Police Chief Ron Olin described GIS as "the next generation of crime analysis activities that we have done in-house since the late 1970s." He said GIS would be a definite help because the analysis of crime trends currently conducted by the Lawrence Police Department is not completely computerized.
LAWRENCE Fire Chief Jim McSwain said the GIS "is built for emergency response."
"It increases the safety of the citizen and the safety of the firefighter," McSwain said. "To be perfectly honest, this is something we're behind on in emergency services."
He said the computer-aided dispatch provided by a GIS not only could show firefighters the quickest route to a fire call, but also immediately inform them of any hazardous materials that might be at the emergency site.
Mike Scott, a representative of Southwestern Bell Telephone, said a GIS could help his company in planning the placement of underground cables and in determining customer usage of new services introduced by the company.
Ralph Gage, general manager of the Journal-World, said that if business and government officials in Douglas County feel they could benefit from a GIS system, perhaps a coalition could be created to develop a multiagency program, thus eliminating duplication of efforts.
"It's too expensive for everybody to try to maintain their own data base," Gage said. He said World Geo solutions and TGS Technology would "like to be considered to help provide the solution."
He said that while some information could be shared by all participants in such a coalition, other data, such a company's marketing information, could be accessed only by the designated parties.
"Everybody's got to agree on the protocols involved so that confidentiality is maintained," he said.