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GISCorps Assists with Ebola Response Mapping for National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO)

Volunteer: Ian Dunn, Software Specialist with the City of Perrysburg, Ohio

Public health professionals are privy to much data: community demographics, restaurant scores, obesity rates, and on and on.  However, that data is not always interpreted in tangible, visually appealing ways. In the worst cases it gets stored in Excel spreadsheets or stuffed into paper files; in the best cases public health officials turn to mapping software such as ArcGIS. But even then, users may not be taking full advantage of the features a GIS has to offer.

One of NACCHO’s primary needs was to identify and map cities that were destinations for airline routes from Ebola affected counties in West Africa.  The primary goal behind collecting airline route data was to foster preparedness amongst local health departments and other public health agencies.  The most likely method for the Ebola Virus arriving in the United States is via air travel (which is in fact what happened).  It is very important to identify where people might show up with Ebola so that Local Health Departments can prepare accordingly.

There is no single GIS data source that incorporated every airline route in the world.  Origins and destinations were identified from data tables from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Airline Route Mapper (http://arm.64hosts.com/), and individual airline websites.  Route lines were created using the XY to Line tool in ArcMap.

The combination of these datasets in an easy to use webmap format provided the perfect mechanism for NACCHO to disseminate and share the data with their partners on the federal, state, and local levels.  NACCHO used this map to illustrate work that was being done to prepare local health departments for a possible Ebola outbreak in their jurisdictions.  NACCHO took on this effort because though some local or state health departments may have compiled this information for their jurisdiction, this information must be available to all relevant parties – and not contained in silos – to have a positive benefit on public health preparedness.

Other data requested by NACCHO to help increase preparedness included local health department contact information joined to the appropriate geographies in order to ease the identification and communication with other local health departments.  NACCHO also required the identification of all local health departments within a one hundred mile radius of all cities that served as destinations for airline routes from West Africa.  The initial goal of this project was to improve preparedness among NACCHO members and partner agencies.

Over the course of the Ebola epidemic this project evolved to provide more situational awareness. Situational awareness was achieved by locating relevant features of the Ebola responses, including the location of airports that conducted additional screening of passengers arriving from West Africa, the location of local health departments offering Ebola related telephone hotlines or websites and information about those hotlines or websites, and Ebola incidence in West Africa.

  

All of the datasets were published to an ArcGIS server.  From there they were consumed in an ArcGIS Online webmap.  A preconfigured JavaScript application was downloaded from ArcGIS Online to use with the webmap.  Minor HTML and CSS changes were made to the downloaded JavaScript application.  Web mapping applications are a useful medium for the production and dissemination of preparedness and situational awareness data.  The majority of the data is geographic in nature, webmaps accessed from either computers or mobile devices are much more user friendly than static PDF maps, and the maps can be updated very quickly and with relative ease as the data changes.

Dave Dyjack, NACCHO associate executive director of programs stated that “… our organizational capabilities as an analytical center for public health preparedness have been heightened through GIS; our partnership with the GISCorps has already produced a series of useful maps which have been helpful in visualizing resource deployment and allocation.  NACCHO looks forward to fostering a growing relationship with the GISCorps while cultivating our internal GIS capabilities over time."