209611 Alternatives to commercial GIS software for public health

Wednesday, November 11, 2009: 11:10 AM

David Broudy, MPH, PhD , Region 1 & 3, NM Dept of Health, Albuquerque, NM
Kurt Menke, MA, GISO , Bird's Eye View, Albuquerque, NM
Geographic Information Systems are catching on as part of public health practice and provide a powerful analysis and reporting environment. Commercial software, such as ArcGIS, dominates the field. This software is sophisticated and serves many clienteles; has a huge user population and is well supported. It is also expensive. While not denying that you get what you pay for, there are Open Source alternatives that may meet some public health needs. GRASS is one of the oldest and MapWindow one of the newest applications. Increasingly, web-based mapping tools provide alternatives to full-function GIS, especially when combined with other web resources such as BatchGeoCode.com. New technologies allow creating mash-ups of user data combined with GoogleMaps and other web resources. The Popfly mash-up editor provides a drag & drop interface to build applications without programming. If there is technical capacity, applications can be developed that integrate open source software elements such as Minnesota Map Server and a custom user interface.

We will examine several alternatives to commercial GIS software, addressing advantages and limitations of each. We will present examples and cases that will help attendees increase use of GIS in public health without investing in commercial software. While open source software may not completely replace commercial software, there may be hybrid solutions that fill many needs. Data and analysis for a complex application might be developed using commercial software, but deployed using web-based mapping tools. Simpler tasks, such as displaying data on a map can easily be done with open source software.

Learning Objectives:
Attendees will be able to: Describe three free or open source GIS software packages Explain what a web mash-up is and how it might be applied to GIS and public health Assess the advantages and limitations of using open source software. Discuss

Keywords: Geographic Information Systems, Information Technology

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I have been a long-time user of commercial GIS software. I teach a seminar at the UNM MPH program GIS and public health data analysis. Financial limitations of community organizations that I have worked with that want to use GIS have pushed me into exploring alternative software solutions.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.