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Better together

By [email protected] - 22nd December 2016 - 13:50

GeoConnexion International columnist Alistair Maclenan is concerned this month. On page 20, he writes: “As 2017 rolls around, it may be that we face a world that values promises over expert advice. But I implore everyone who works in the geo-industry to continue and to expand the insight you provide to the world. It may well be ignored by the majority but if you don’t keep doing what you’re doing, then that one person who needs it won’t have it. And then we are in trouble.”

What’s the cause of his worry? 2016. The year brought so many upsets to the world of politics – in particular, thanks to the Brexit vote in the UK, the result of the referendum in Italy and the election of Donald Trump as the US’s president. This was despite the advice of experts in those countries and around the world who almost unanimously counselled voters to pick the opposite results from the ones eventually selected.

Many commentators took these seismic events to mean we are living in a ‘post-truth’ age, where people only care about what feels right to them, rather than what evidence and experts say is true. Equally importantly, the aftermath of some of these events, which have seen domestic disturbances of all kinds, has suggested that societies are divided and fearful of other groups.

But Alistair’s message is that by working together, to provide people with the information they need, we can reduce the divide and ensure citizens are protected. Geospatial information and technologies both have an important role in this.

It’s a message echoed in two other articles this issue. On page 33, Nick Hawkins looks at the plights of mobile workers. Whether working alone in their home countries or abroad, mobile workers are at greater risk than those back in the office, and their employers have a duty to look after them as best they can. However, if there’s an emergency and the worker could be put in a dangerous situation – or already is in one – what can their employer do to protect them?

It’s here that geospatial technologies come in, enabling employers and employees to send notifications to each other, warning of danger or threat. But what should an employer look for in such a system? Among other things, Hawkins says any emergency communications platform needs to founded on ‘the four pillars of notification’.

It’s not just people who are at risk in emergencies – assets are, too, including those of first-responders. On page 30, Clemente Fuggini and Ivan Tesfai report on the EU-supported Spartacus system, which is intended to track assets including containers and vehicles and people during crises. Trials of the system were successfully completed in October and the system is ready for use. Fuggini and Tesfai explain how Spartacus works, how it overcomes the variety of different protocols used in the field, how it deals with the inevitable unreliability of networks during emergencies, and how users can visualise the results. They also look at what the future holds for the system and its commercial possibilities, particularly in logistics.

As well as working together now, we also need to plan for the future, teaching our children the value of good, reliable information and how it can benefit them. On page 21, Randall E Raymond explains how a project in which he is involved is helping disadvantaged children learn about the power of GIS while giving them the skills they will need for a career in the geospatial industry. Last year, as part of the GIS Resources and Applications for Career Education (Grace) project, eight paid high school interns in Michigan in the US worked on developing the ‘Keweenaw Time Traveler’ online portal for 20 hours a week for six weeks. The portal will enable tourists to plan routes through the Keweenaw National Historical Park, learn more about Michigan’s ‘Copper Country’ and even trace the history of people and places in the region over the past 100 years.

We hope every generation will be better than the one that preceded it. Let’s hope that by teaching children such as this the value of co-operation and of knowledge that they’re not only better but safer than in 2016.

I hope you enjoy the issue.

If you have a comment or wish to express your views on anything in this issue or in the world of geospatial information, then please email me at [email protected] with Letter to the Editor in the Subject line. Please start your email with Dear Editor and the chances are your letter will appear in the Letters to the Editor page