Wisconsin Geospatial News

Disaster/Emergency Response Encourages Scrutiny of Public Access Policies

Nearly eight months after the most notable terrorist disaster in recent history, much energy is currently being directed toward the formulation, review, or revision of organizational information security policies. Of particular concern are policies related to distribution, access, and use of public information which may be of a sensitive nature. This broad definition is easily applied to much of the digital mapping information collected today at all levels of government.

Focus on information policy has resulted in both the filtering or blocking of some previously accessible information, in particular on the Internet. It has also resulted in much new or reinvigorated published discussion and resources for sorting out these policies, discovering a strategy, and moving forward with the business of government.

Local Web Presence Hesitation
Locally, in Wisconsin, this highlighted discussion could not have come at a better time. Many counties and municipalities are currently on the verge of introducing or expanding local government web presences and associated government services. Specifically, many county land information offices have indicated in multi-year plans that website introduction followed by some level of land records or data availability were imminent in this year or next. Current security concerns surrounding some of this information include the searchability by name of parcel or assessment data online as well as the publishing of aerial or orthophotography.

The issue is of such a priority as to prompt an additional free pre-conference workshop before the annual meeting of the Wisconsin Land Information Association (WLIA). The workshop entitled, Data Distribution – How much and for what use, was presented by the WLIA Information Policy Task Force on March 12, 2002, and included discussion of data fees and restrictions, as well as use and re-distribution constraints once data has been delivered.

Data Management for Preparedness
Parallel with the examination and introduction of geospatial information on local government websites is an emerging re-examination of how spatial data is collected, stored, maintained, and updated. This has been prompted by a variety of factors including changes in the underlying architecture of a prominent GIS product suite, maturation of local GIS operations, and expanding involvement of multiple county or municipal departments in GIS data collection and use. This presents an optimal opportunity for organizations to compile and update geospatial metadata on current data assets and holdings. Metadata has been identified now as a crucial component in analyzing data lineage, life cycle, and publishing constraints among other benefits. An interview with New York City GIS personnel by Adena Schutzberg, editor of the GIS Monitor newsletter, shortly after 9/11 highlighted metadata in data analysis efforts for disaster GIS database assembly. Metadata also contributes to organized data management through which publishing control as well as secure offsite archival and backup procedures can be exercised.

Quick Responses Preclude Cautious Public Access
In the last several months, responses to address concerns over data sensitivity and access constraints have prompted reactions ranging from whole federal agency websites going temporarily offline for screening to lesser forms of pulling the plug, until policy is addressed. It is hoped that in the months that follow, policy will be addressed, relevant issues will be examined and discussed, and that public access to spatial data will move forward but in a notably more aware, well-documented, and policy-backed fashion. As with any disaster, re-building is imminent but can only benefit from careful incorporation of lessons recently learned on the role and value of geospatial information and its metadata documentation in disaster preparedness and management and security concerns at all levels of government.

More information: States Declare Open Season on Public Access

GIS in the Trenches, Adena Schutzberg, GIS Monitor, 27 September, 2001, www.tenlinks.com
States Declare Open Season on Public Access, Kathleen Murphy, 01 March, 2002, stateline.org