URISA Conference draws packed house

The spectre of TS Gustav notwithstanding, a packed house greeted attendees at the official opening on Wednesday of the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association Caribbean Conference, held in Grand Cayman for the first time from 25-28 August.

‘This year’s event promises to be one of the most comprehensive events of its type to be held in the Caribbean,’ said conference Chair Alan Jones, Lands and Survey director.

‘As conference hosts, the Cayman Islands Government and Cayman Land Info are pleased to support URISA in bringing together GIS professionals from around the region and further afield.’

In the words of Keynote speaker David Maguire, chief scientist from Environmental Systems Research, Geographic Information Systems use data in a specific way and include four fundamental aspects: data management, spatial analysis and modelling, cartography and visualisation such as mapping and publishing and sharing of the collected information.

GIS systems build on such disciplines as aerial imaging, surveying and communications technology and play a critical role in many aspects of daily life and decision making by people at all levels of society.

Familiar GIS tools include interactive street maps people use when searching the web for a particular restaurant or hotel and weather maps such as those used to track and visually portray hurricanes.

Others data layers, as they are known, can use specific statistical data to illustrate crime clusters or disease outbreaks, while others can predict how a particular city might look after a flood, or 50 years into the future.

Having cut back the conference from three days to two due to Gustav, organisers managed to squeeze the majority of speakers and sessions in nonetheless and added a town hall meeting on Thursday aimed at addressing the timely issue of disaster management.

Events included training seminars, breakout sessions and a trade show in addition to the main conference presentations, all related to the management and application of information and data that is used in areas as diverse as planning, property management, weather forecasts and disease mapping.

Leader of Government Business and Planning Minister Kurt Tibbetts provided Wednesday’s opening address, noting that among attendees from Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, Guyana; Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, the US; and the UK, a Cuban delegation was also present for the first time.

He praised the rapid growth of the capabilities of the Lands and Survey department thanks to the advances being made in GIS, encouraging the department to work with other countries in the region.

‘We are proud of our progress but we need to see growth throughout all of the Caribbean,’ he said.

He noted that by encouraging synergies and economies of scale in use of GIS tools, smaller agencies and governments will not need to reinvent the wheel when they want to collect and analyse specific kinds of information.

He noted Cayman is helping Turks and Caicos to modernise its land registry.

‘With ongoing development and marketing of the products the sky is the limit when it comes to new data layers,’ he said.

He advised countries to focus on small achievable projects that can be seen through from start to finish.

‘Within the Caribbean social and economic development shouldn’t be obstacles if small projects can be done bit by bit. By doing small projects we can put together the Caribbean jigsaw puzzle.’

Mr. Maguire later provided an historical overview of GIS and the new technologies and capabilities on the horizon, setting the stage for the rest of the presentations, which looked into specific uses of GIS, from land use planning, health applications, to the studying coastal and marine environments.

The possibilities are endless, Mr. Maguire noted, but care must be taken to use good and accurate data as the foundation. He remarked that, for instance, depending on how it is measured, the ‘real’ length of a particular coastline can vary by hundreds of miles.

The week’s activities also included networking, social events, and opportunities for sightseeing.