Today, a map is no longer something you fold up and put in the glove compartment of your car. It is the use of global positioning system (GPS) and geographic information systems (GIS) that accurately collect, store, retrieve and display vast amounts of information in a spatial context. Whether it is MapQuest, Google Maps, or the in-dash navigation system in your car, everyday Americans use geospatial data more than they know it.


It’s 7:00 a.m. You are awakened by your clock radio and you get up and turn on the lights.

The radio and lights are powered by electricity. The electric company has used geospatial information to route transmission and distribution lines, locate or deliver the fuel (oil, gas, coal, hydro, geothermal, wind, solar), and manage its infrastructure (utility poles, underground conduits and local lines) to get power to your house.

Once in the kitchen you pour yourself some fresh orange juice.

Aerial photography was used to monitor crops. Water for irrigation to grow the trees depended on geospatial data to get from the reservoir aquifer to the farm. Farmers used precision agriculture – GIS and GPS – to plant, plow, and fertilize their crops, as well as to safely and effectively apply pesticides.

You shower, shave and brush your teeth.

Water is supplied to your home through a water distribution system that consists of thousands of miles of water mains. The utility uses geospatial data to plan routes, lay water lines, and monitor water flow. Local contractors use One Call or Miss Utility systems to make sure they don’t hit an underground water or electric line when excavating. Once used water goes down the drain, a wastewater collection system consisting of hundreds of miles of sanitary sewers and storm drains that was designed and built using geospatial data takes the wastewater to a treatment plant.

You see your kids off to the bus stop to go to school.

The local school board has used geospatial information to draw school boundaries. A bus efficiently picks up the children in your neighborhood based on a routing system built from a geographic information system (GIS), combining demographic data, street data, and data about location of both the students’ homes and the school.

You drive to work.

Engineers have used mapping and geospatial information for planning, corridor analysis, environmental impact studies, design, construction, operation, and maintenance of the roads you travel by car or bus, or for the subway you’ve ridden. Your in-dash navigation system may have helped identify an accident or traffic jam and suggested an alternate route.

You make a phone call or send an email.

Land line or cellular telephones and broadband internet are dependent on geospatial data. Your telecom service provider uses this data to lay lines and fiber optic cables, site cell towers, and manage their infrastructure.

You feel ill and can’t get to a doctor or the hospital on your own.

You dial 911. The operator uses the latest geospatial technology to identify the location from which you made your call. An ambulance uses GIS to get from the EMS station to you via the quickest possible route, and then gets you to the nearest hospital through an automated mapping system. After you’ve been diagnosed and treated, a health care professional enters information about your illness into a GIS, plots where you were stricken and finds there have been several others affected by similar symptoms in recent weeks. An epidemiology analysis, using geospatial data, is begun to find the cause and begin remediation.

Back at work, you begin serving customers, clients or constituents.

At your desktop, you are targeting a specific neighborhood for your product, or if you work in a political office, you are micro-targeting a mail campaign or town hall meeting. GIS lets you identify key customers, clients or constituents and research data you have on their preferences and interests.

The day is done. You’ve done a lot. And geospatial information helped you through the day more than you realized. Geography affects your life nearly every step of the way, helping you to be safer and more productive.

Without maps, you’re lost!

 (1/13) Adapted from ArcNews, with acknowledgment to ESRI, Inc.