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Publishing Geospatial Data Online to Optimize Rural GIS Resources

By Jason L. Rader

As geographic information systems continue to be adopted in a variety of different agencies, administrators and analysts have begun to recognize the value of sharing GIS resources to increase the utility of their systems and get the most out of the resources budgeted to their projects. This type of resource sharing may include the sharing of local historical data, collective data purchases / collection, sharing of hardware and networks, and the complete integration of a single, multi-agency GIS. Multi-agency and shared GIS have been adopted in many areas to take advantage of these types of resource sharing. However, for many lower populated and "fiscally challenged" rural communities, it is still difficult to afford the hardware, high-speed networks, software license fees, trained staff, and other bits and pieces required to implement a shared GIS.

With TNTmips® and TNTserver™ from MicroImages, Inc., such a system can be implemented for a relatively low cost. Using these two key pieces of software, a single person can easily organize a county’s worth of pertinent data into a user friendly atlas and distribute these data throughout the county using the Internet access that most people already have. The atlas that is published through TNTserver not only includes the visible spatial information, but also the associated database information, measurements, coordinate information, metadata, and user friendly analysis features that any good GIS should provide. These published data are then easily accessible to local government agencies, private businesses, landowners, and the general public.

The first step in implementing this type of shared GIS is to organize the pertinent data into an easily usable structure. This task is accomplished with the TNTmips HyperIndex® Linker, which is used to organize the data into an electronic atlas. An atlas made with TNTmips can consist of a simple "stack" of data or a complex network of pre-determined layouts designed to quickly present themed information to the end user. An extremely wide variety of raster, vector, CAD, TIN, and database information can be imported and / or created in TNTmips for use in the atlas. Raster layers are easily overlaid with unlimited vector, CAD, and TIN data, as well as semi-transparent rasters and filled polygons. Practically any type of spatial data available to analysts can be implemented into an atlas created this way. The analyst in charge of assembling these atlases can consider their potential uses by the various government agencies, clients, and citizens, and create their atlas accordingly.

With TNTserver, these atlases can be published through the Internet, allowing for the resources required for its creation to be shared. Since the atlas is stored and maintained in a central location, one person can act as the administrator for a GIS that can be shared by an entire county. Since the GIS is administered from a centralized location, the need for high performance workstations, high speed networks, and GIS expertise at the local level is eliminated. If you have a local Windows-based PC or Macintosh, a decent Internet connection, and know how to run a web browser, you can run an atlas published through TNTserver.

In order to access the atlas that is to be published, an Internet link can be created on a web server that will connect the user to TNTserver. Once the user is connected, the TNTclient™ Java applet is downloaded, launched, and opens the primary level of the atlas that is published. From this point, the person browsing the atlas can use a vast array of analysis tools to manipulate the data, retrieve statistics, and even print information brought up for display within the TNTclient view window. Standard pan, zoom, and selection tools are readily available, as well as tools designed for making accurate measurements and the retrieval of database information for the data in question.

MicroImages has provided a web site in which some of these atlases can be examined. At, you can browse through some of these atlases and experiment with the analysis tools they offer. The Scotts Bluff County Atlas has been specifically constructed to demonstrate these tools, as well as provide a sample of how the combination of TNTmips and TNTserver can be used to share GIS resources in a rural community. The Scotts Bluff County Atlas has been assembled from free data available for Scotts Bluff County, Nebraska, from the Nebraska Natural Resources Commission ( ). This atlas includes (but is not limited to) elevation data, compressed orthophoto quads for the entire county, STATSGO soils data, TIGER vector data, township and range data, semi-transparent DRG raster data, and point data for city locations.

Once you launch an atlas, you can hide and unhide the data layers of the atlas to best fit their task. For example, if a maintenance worker for a local water utility is looking for the location of a particular valve in a generalized county atlas, they can hide all of the data that are not pertinent to the task. This user-simplified form of the atlas might consist of the orthophotos of the areas, along with the accompanying vector data for the desired object. The user can then easily use the pan and zoom tools to navigate to the desired object for further study. The pan and zoom tools, along with the ability to dynamically hide objects, allows one generalized atlas to be customized on the spot by the end user for a specific application. This allows you to navigate through an extremely complex collection of data and zoom in on a specific feature with a few clicks of a button.

A properly organized atlas can be converted from general to specific use with little effort. This allows an atlas to be easily usable by a wide variety of people and agencies.

TNTserver also includes various measurement tools that allow you to obtain measurements based upon the accurate georeference of the objects in the atlas. These measurement tools allow you to measure linear features, curved features, and also allow you to obtain area measurements for irregular areas. In a county-wide atlas that is accessible to the public, any landowner can use the pan and zoom tools to navigate down to his / her property with only a few clicks of the mouse button. The measurement tools could then be used to accurately calculate the area of the landowner’s property / fields, as well as distances on and in proximity to the property.

Standard measurement tools are used to derive accurate measurements based upon the georeference of underlying data layers.

One of the most valued features of TNTserver is its ability to provide database information about data within the atlas. This is accomplished through the InfoTips that are activated in the TNTclient. Once this is done, you can request pertinent information that is available from the data layers in the atlas by clicking over an area on screen. The information is then returned to TNTclient in the InfoTips window. The specific information that is returned in the InfoTips window depends upon the information stored in the database objects related to the data layers in the atlas. The data that are presented as InfoTips are specified when the atlas is created, so the type and amount of information required by the end users of the atlas should be considered during its construction.

The usefulness of the InfoTips in TNTserver is not limited to database objects that are entirely within the atlas, as the person creating the atlas can link to database objects created, maintained, and stored outside of the atlas. For example, if you have information about landowners and their land stored in a database, a unique ID can be used to directly link this information to vector polygon data set up in the atlas. When the database administrator makes changes to the existing database, these changes are immediately applied to the polygons that the attributes are linked to in the atlas. This allows you to update the database information related to the associated data objects within the atlas without ever directly altering the atlas. Changes to the InfoTips that are then requested for a particular feature are updated as quickly as the person maintaining the atlas can enter them into the associated database.

TNTclient allows you to use InfoTips to quickly view database information attached to the data in the atlas by simply clicking on an area you are interested it.

The online publishing of data through TNTserver can allow you to share the resources required to implement a GIS that is needed by all types of agencies and citizens but is often too expensive to implement specifically for one organization or task. This may be particularly true in rural communities, which may not have the big-city budgets available for these types of tasks. Using this shared approach, you can print a map out of a specific area that contains data that is updated daily, eliminating the need to mass produce maps in hardcopy form that become outdated quickly. Data that are needed all over the county are distributed from the moment that the atlas is published through TNTserver.

The cost effectiveness of publishing data in this manner comes from the need for only two key tools, TNTmips and TNTserver. Properly used, these two tools can be utilized to create a highly efficient, shared GIS that can be used throughout a widespread area and managed from one centralized location by just one or a few people. While a local GIS implementation is often costly, the analysis tools in TNTserver bring complex GIS utility to the desktop of anyone with an Internet connection and a personal computer. It is this utilization of the Internet and specialized software that will allow you to get the most out of your GIS, your data, and your budgeted resources.

MicroImages, Inc.
201 North 8th Street
Lincoln, Nebraska 68508
Phone (402) 477-9554
Fax (402) 477-9559

© Copyright 1999 Jason L. Rader. All rights reserved.

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