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GIS mapping now more relevant than ever, ‘Esri’ dashboard proves helpful in fighting COVID

GIS based mapping and analysis has been used effectively by WHO, UNICEF and CDC during the outbreak of SARS, Ebola and Zika diseases as well. How is it helping during the COVID-19 outbreak?

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Agendra Kumar, President, Esri India

Government and other authorities have been using a combination of varied technologies to contain the spread of the virus. GIS mapping software has found a greater purpose in an emergency like the COVID-19 outbreak. Esri, a geographic information company, has been developed a unique dashboard that has been helping the government with timely and accurate location information. 

By using this dashboard a lot of key information regarding recovered cases, confirmed cases, applications, datasets and more will be in the hands of the authorities so they can make informed decisions and well thought out strategies. Esri is already working with Government organisations like NDMA, NIC and other state departments to contain the virus. 

To discuss the dashboard in detail, Express Computer’s Radhika Udas gets in conversation with the President of Esri- Agendra Kumar. He shares information regarding the dashboard and also throws light on the application of GIS during a pandemic and its future. 

  • Why is GIS application very crucial for this pandemic fight?

A spatial understanding is imperative for managing and controlling a pandemic such as corona virus disease (COVID-19). To device response strategies, agencies need answers to questions such as – where are the cases? how the disease is spreading? where are the vulnerable populations? Location provides a reference for common understanding of the situation and empowers everyone involved to make informed decisions, act and communicate. 

Geographic Information System (GIS) provides the tools and a framework for the agencies to combine multiple layers of data with a common reference of location. Investigators use GIS to determine who an infected person has come in contact with. Epidemiologists use GIS for monitoring the spread of the virus through space and time to implement control, preventive, and surveillance measures. Policymakers are using GIS to evaluate available facilities and increase healthcare capacity. 

Agencies are using mathematical modeling combined with spatial analytics capabilities in GIS to calculate and present COVID-19 forecasts. GIS is also helping explore implications of each forecast, answering location questions to guide response and recovery strategies. Agencies are using GIS-based maps, analysis and dashboards not only for cross-agency collaboration but also to communicate to citizens the latest and authoritative information on current cases, nearest authorized testing centers and quarantine centers.

  • Please elaborate on Esri dashboard that maps the spread of the disease? What kind of information is it providing?

Most of the government agencies have developed GIS dashboards that display existing cases (active, treated, under isolation, under quarantine and deaths) at the respective geographic level, healthcare facility locations and capacities, quarantine center locations, hotspots, and trends. Organizations/agencies are leveraging these GIS dashboards for planning and managing the COVID-19 spread in their respective areas of interest i.e. at national, state or a city level or even for further detailed planning at the district level.  

Some of these maps-based analyses and dashboards are being shared with citizens to communicate the authoritative information of the disease spread in the region where they are. Though many map-based analyses dashboards are private and are being used for internal multi-agency collaboration, planning and decision making. 

  • What government organizations have you collaborated with? Could you explain with an example of how your dashboard has helped them?

Globally Esri is working with various government agencies like World Health Organization (WHO) and Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDCP) to help them leverage the GIS technology in order to make decisions and plan various measures to control the spread of pandemics. In India, we are supporting various national agencies such as NDMA and NIC, more than 25 state departments, NGOs and research organization to help them setup GIS hubs to make decisions and plan various measures to control the spread of COVID-19. 

As shared earlier, agencies / organizations are using GIS capabilities like mapping and spatial analytics; integrating authoritative data for their regional geographies to make decisions and plan various measures to control the spread of COVID-19. The spatial context of hotspots is enabling informed decision making for health capacities – existing and to develop, quarantine center capacities and identify new sites to ensure disease containment. Artificial intelligence (AI) and spatial predication models are being used to model various scenarios – pessimistic, optimistic or as-is of disease spread to evaluate preparedness and stay ahead of the curve. All these analyses are being presented via various dashboards for reporting as well as collaborating with agencies involved in COVID response.

In Karnataka, the administrative body of the fourth largest municipal corporation in India, the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), has launched a GIS based Command and Control center to cohesively plan, coordinate and execute various state level actions initiated to contain the disease. The central command and control center is now being used for all COVID-19 planning and response strategies across the state of Karnataka. Around 45 smart city command and control centers have been turned into COVID-19 war rooms and others are following the suite.

  • What technologies are involved in the making of this dashboard and acquiring data for it?

The dashboards are primarily built using Esri’s ArcGIS. The dashboard can be configured to show various layers of information such as state/district boundaries, point of interest data such as hospitals, authorized testing centers, and quarantine centers. In addition, various data streams of cases being reported, treated, deaths, or in isolation can be populated to show the data on the dashboards as per data update frequency.

For advanced spatial analysis and predictive modeling, ArcGIS Pro, our next generation desktop product can be used. Any findings and analysis done in ArcGIS Pro can be published to ArcGIS Online account which can further be integrated into the dashboards or can be shared as access-controlled maps with other collaborating agencies. 

To enable agencies to build a quick engagement platform, ArcGIS Hub is also being provided which helps agencies to create rapid information products for citizen engagement. ArcGIS Hub is also configured to work with ArcGIS Online account.

  • How is this system ensuring data security and privacy?

Agencies/organizations are using GIS and integrating authoritative data owned by them for their regional geographies. At any instance, they are in complete control of what data and analysis they would like to share with citizens or other agencies. The data resides within their organization firewalls and is access controlled for sharing across other departments.

  • What do you believe is the future of data resources after this pandemic?

GIS is not a new technology. It is being used by governments worldwide for effective governance of the key initiatives. In India, it has been a core foundation of the major missions, e-Governance and digital transformation programs such as Digital India, Swachh Bharat Mission, Smart Cities, R-APDRP and Sarv Shiksha Abhiyaan. Many states, even have state level GIS programs to track and manage initiatives such as progress of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), education, forest cover, soil health and water resources.

Even the use of GIS in managing the pandemic crisis is not new. GIS-based mapping and analysis have been an effective technology to International agencies and health bodies such as the WHO, UNICEF, and CDC to understand the outbreak and control the spread of SARS, Ebola and Zika diseases. In India, institutes like the National Institute of Malaria Research (NIMR) have been using GIS for tracking vector-borne disease outbreaks such as Malaria and Dengue. 

Beyond COVID-19, the usage of GIS specifically in the health sector will definitely see significant uptake. GIS systems are expected to support the effective implementation of massive healthcare programs such as Ayushman Bharat and Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Abhiyan being rolled out by the government. At the state level, enterprise Health GIS systems will evolve which not only integrates the existing health MIS data in a spatial context but also multiple other data sources providing the foundation for all planning and decision making w.r.t to health and well-being of the citizens. The states and cities can map their health resources vis-a-vis the population and demography to identify the gaps and plan for additional resources. 

We as a nation are best positioned to harness the potential of GIS technology. We already have a strong foundation of geospatial infrastructure and knowledge which is a key strategic advantage for us. 

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