Bookmark and Share Email this page Email Print this page Print Feed Feed

GIS in Hawaii

A digital version of the state

(page 2 of 3)


GIS uses layers to organize information. Separate layers
might include: customer locations, street maps, tax-map
keys, elevations, land-use areas and actual photographs.

The state’s GIS program is more primitive than the City and County’s. The state Office of Planning is the official coordinator of GIS, but it’s never had the funding or support that the city gives Schmidt. Individual departments – especially landowners such as the Department of Transportation and the Department of Land and Natural Resources – are heavy users of GIS, but there’s little coordination in their programs. That may change, because GIS is a major priority of state planning director Jesse Souki. Perhaps more important, Sonny Bhagowalia, the state’s new CIO, has identified a more enterprise-based GIS system as a key way to improve state services. For now, though, state ambitions are constrained by budget woes.

However, the state Office of Planning hosts an astonishing library of free databases and map layers at GIS users can visit the site to download hundreds of datasets and maps, including layers that show:

• physical features, like coast lines, rivers and streams, and roads;

• political boundaries, like census blocks, council districts and zoning boundaries;

• natural resources, like agricultural lands, soil maps and wetlands;

• hazard information, like tsunami evacuation zones, emergency shelters and wildfire-risk maps; and

• marine layers, like anchorage areas, bottomfish-restricted areas and explosive dumping areas.

For the neophyte who wants to know why GIS is important, scanning this list of free layers can be an epiphany.


“Information technology and business are becoming inextricably interwoven. I don’t think anyone can talk meaningfully about one without talking about the other.”
– Bill Gates


Click image to enlarge.
The city of Honolulu’s GIS system ( gives
citizens 70 layers of information. For example, from an aerial
view base map (1), anyone can drill down to detailed property
information (2). That leads to other databases, such as
property tax information (3) and area crime reports (4).

GIS is already a widely used tool for big businesses in Hawaii and elsewhere. Companies like UPS and FedEx use GIS for routing and scheduling their fleets. GIS, combined with inventory-management tools, allows service providers like Sears to keep track of their rolling inventory, making sure to dispatch a truck that has the right parts on board. Power companies like Hawaiian Electric use GIS to compare the existing electric grid with potential alternative-energy sources to plan infrastructure improvements. In other words, GIS isn’t simply maps, it’s also a powerful analytical and planning tool.

A good example is ESRI’s Business Analyst extension. This add-on to ESRI’s other GIS programs allows companies to take demographic and income data from census blocks and compare that with geographic factors such as available real estate, drive times and zoning maps. Major franchises and big-box stores use this kind of analysis to help locate new stores and coordinate marketing campaigns. That’s because GIS allows businesses to see these kinds of relationships quickly and easily.

GIS’s impact on large local landowners like Kamehameha Schools or A&B Properties may be even more profound. Back in his KS office, Darrell Hamamura uses software called ArcGIS Desktop to pull up the parcel map for Punaluu on Oahu’s Windward coast, where KS owns a lot of land. With a click of his mouse, Hamamura shows how he can retrieve detailed information for any parcel on the map. He can view the property using a topographical map, a roadmap or an aerial image as a basemap. He can zoom in to look at details, or zoom out for a wider perspective. He can use built-in ArcGIS tools to measure distances or calculate acreages on a map. He can also tunnel into different layers that link to a wide assortment of databases, both private and public.

“Here, I’ll bring up an agricultural layer,” Hamamura says. Then, with a click of his mouse, he selects a parcel from a patchwork of greens and reds and blues. “Here are all the different agricultural fields. These are shape files created using GPS – global positioning system – that identify the boundaries of actual crops and leases. Within this area, we can calculate acreage, give it names, do an inventory of what types of crops are actually being grown. We have a TMK layer, so we can see ownership information on all the neighboring lots.” Perhaps more impressive, from the same map, Hamamura can drill down to another database – Kamehameha Schools’ lease-management system.

“Now we can look at the lease in detail,” he says, zooming in on a small plot in the back of Punaluu. “The system gives you land-asset value; the name of who’s leasing the property; which asset manager manages it; when the lease begins and when it ends; and what it’s leased for – in this case, aquaculture. And it gives you all the other lease information: base rent, any other rent, contact information. For all this information, we’re just using our GIS portal to get to the parcel layer. From there, we’re able to get to all the other systems. That way, the user only has to enter the TMK once.” Or, in this case, simply click on a map.

Hawaii Business magazine invites you to comment on our articles and the issues they raise. Comments are moderated for offensive language, commercial messages and off-topic posts and may be deleted. Some comments may be chosen for inclusion in the magazine on the Feedback page.

Add your comment:


Don't Miss an Issue!
Hawaii Business,December