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GIS in Hawaii

A digital version of the state

(page 3 of 3)


GIS is a critical tool in sciences such as conservation biology.
The Oahu Invasive Species Committee uses it to track the
spread of the Miconia calvescens weed. GIS coordinator
Jean Fujikawa plots known locations of Miconia and then
use buffers and slope steepness analysis to map out
where to send OISC’s small field crew. She’s also able to
show how Miconia will spread without OISC’s intervention.
Manoa in three years is shown at right with each red dot
representing a single plant.
Map and photos: Courtesy Oahu Invasive Species Committee

The point of this demonstration is that a custom GIS program, like KSBE’s, can be modified to include more features than a public portal like For emphasis, Hamamura plunges deeper into the system’s library of databases. “Now, we’re looking at our property-inspection-management system,” he says, pulling up a table of data. “So, for this TMK, we’ve conducted all these inspections. Using GIS, we can look at who the inspector was, what dates he was there, and see the latest inspection report. On this report, for example, the inspector found two problems.  Scrolling down on the inspection system, we can see this is from the inspector writing back to the asset manager who works with that lessee.”

Of course, GIS is famously about maps, and the KSBE system is no exception. Hamamura clicks the maps tab to show what that means for asset managers or planners. “We’ve scanned in almost all our Kamehameha Schools maps database,” he says, referring to the collection of maps and surveys in the vault. “So, this is a list of all the maps that are available for this Punaluu area. What you can do is click on an individual map and see all the metadata on it: what it is, who surveyed it and when it was surveyed. In this case, it was in 1885 – and we do have an image.” He clicks on the link, and the 117-year-old map of Punaluu emerges, as clear as if it were spread out on the office table.


“ [(Maps + Data) x Analysis]Web ”   
– Royce Jones, providing an equation that explains the power of GIS


According to Royce Jones, ESRI’s Hawaii/Pacific regional manager, the future of GIS is going to be increasingly on the cloud. Part of the reason has to do with the growing influence of web-based map services like those offered by state and federal agencies such as USGS and NOAA. In addition, developers like ESRI are offering new tools – often for free – that make it easier for GIS users to create their own “focused web applications.” Using ESRI’s new, free program at, for example, even non-GIS experts can easily create, publish and share simple maps. The program includes high-quality base maps, basic GIS navigation and tools, and the ability to add layers either from your own files or hundreds of web sources. For now, most examples in the Hawaii Ohana section of the website are simple demonstrations. But, Jones points out, it’s also possible to create highly sophisticated and useful focused web applications.

A case in point is the use of editable layers that allow people to add or subtract information from an existing map, and share the new version with the public. Jones gives a couple of examples: The city of Honolulu is experimenting with a service called City Source, through which citizens can alert city officials about problems, like potholes or graffiti, by posting them on a public map. Also, during the recent public hearings about redistricting for the state Senate, the state created a focused web application that allowed citizens to redraw their district boundaries, moving census blocks back and forth between districts to create their own redistricting plans. The program allowed them to see instantly what effects these changes would have on district populations and whether their plans met legal guidelines. In the end, they could save their changes and submit their plans as official testimony to the commission.

“Part of ‘to the power of the web,’ ” Jones says, “goes the other direction. We tend to think of GIS as pushing information out to the public by the City and County, but what about getting information back?” That, too, is the future of GIS in Hawaii.

Maybe the most important effect of the Web is that it’s making GIS affordable to smaller companies. Until now, software like ESRI’s ArcGIS Server cost as much as $7,000 per user and there was the even bigger cost of maintaining a server. “Smaller businesses, and even some smaller government agencies, don’t really have an IT shop that could run a server that could handle public requests and so forth,” Jones says.

But GIS, like everything else, is going to the cloud. Organizations no longer need to marshal a full IT department to offer maps or focused web applications to the public. “People go to,” Jones says, “but it’s actually hosted on Amazon. You can now have your own server, but you don’t have to administer it.”

In the end, GIS is ubiquitous. The growth of the Internet and the proliferation of web-based map services like Google Maps serve both to accelerate that ubiquity and to make it invisible. “Does that mean the GIS professional is going away?” Jones asks. “No. But it’s opened up GIS to the point that it’s just another tool. Now, the end user going through the Web doesn’t even know they’re using GIS.”

There’s one more effect of Jones’ exponential equation using “to the power of the Web.” It’s the inexorable movement toward transparent and publicly available data. Nowadays, almost every government agency tells at least part of its story in a public layer or a database accessible through GIS. This has given rise to an unprecedented cascade of government information into private hands. Private data isn’t far behind. That means GIS will only become a more powerful tool for everyone. The doors to the vault are open.


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