From Paris, France to Paris, Arkansas: Why Geographic Information Science Matters
For more than two hundred years the United States and France have maintained close, enduring relations. France is, in fact, our oldest ally and both nations stand as symbols of freedom of speech, freedom of thought and the broader concepts of liberty and democracy.
Given our strong bonds, Americans were understandably shocked and saddened when flames engulfed the 850-year old Notre Dame Cathedral in April. The beautiful gothic structure, with its stunning stained-glass windows and flying buttresses, is one of the world’s most well-known works of religious architecture. French President Emmanuel Macron has promised that it will be completely, and quickly, rebuilt. This is an ambitious goal, but the tools exist to help make it a reality.
The use of technology to aid in the restoration of Notre Dame was the focus of the Library of Congress’ annual Geographic Information Science (GIS) Day event. As a co-chair of the Senate French Caucus, I was honored to be invited to share some thoughts this subject.
It was a fascinating, timely topic given how GIS is already playing a key role in the rebuilding efforts. Drones were gathering data about the cathedral within 24 hours of the fire’s extinguishment, and these flights produced terrabytes of data, which were then analyzed and used to create hundreds of 360-degree panoramas of both the inside and outside of the church post-fire.
Even more fortuitous, a highly precise digital map of the cathedral’s pre-fire state also exists. In 2015, a historian compiled over one billion laser-measured points to help tell the cathedral’s story. That data should prove extremely useful in the reconstruction of the iconic building.
Cultural preservation is just one of the many uses for GIS. From aiding in highway design to coordinating disaster responses, advances in this technology have revolutionized the way in which decisions are made. In fact, there’s another Paris much closer to home where GIS is currently being put to good use.
Paris, Arkansas is one of the many communities along the Arkansas River that experienced significant damage as a result of this year’s historic flooding. The Arkansas Department of Transportation (ARDOT) conducted aerial photography during the peak flooding to aid recovery and restoration efforts among the state’s affected roads and highways, mapped flood impact to analyze property and economic loss and provided that information to inform state levee management decisions. ARDOT has made this imagery available to science, engineering, real estate and emergency planning communities to support improved decision making in the future.
My colleagues and I are committed to removing barriers to will help further unlock the potential of GIS. Last year, we took a step forward by including the Geospatial Data Act (GDA) of 2018 in the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization bill that President Trump signed into law.
It just so happens that one of the authors of the GDA Act of 2018 is none other than Arkansas’s Fourth District Congressman Bruce Westerman. He was gracious enough to join me for the Library of Congress event so he could share his expertise with the attendees.
GIS is a subject the event’s audience was well versed in, but one that most Americans know little about. Yet, as evidenced above, it is very important to all of our daily lives. The message Congressman Westerman and I delivered was that Washington will work to ensure that, as GIS policy is implemented, it will be done so in a thoughtful manner in order for it to continue improving our daily lives.
Ultimately, our goal is to expand the understanding and use of the data. We want the technology and data to allow governing to become more efficient and effective through its use. Unlocking the true capabilities of GIS will be win-win for us all.
11-15-19 4:53 p.m. KAWX.ORG
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