What is GIS?

Layer GISIn a strict sense, a Geographic Information System (GIS) is a computerized system designed for the storage, retrieval, and analysis of geographically referenced data. GIS uses advanced analytical tools to explore at a scientific level the spatial relationships, patterns, and processes of cultural, biological, demographic, economic, geographic, and physical phenomena.

In a lax sense, GIS is a technological field that incorporates geographical features with tabular data in order to map, analyze, and assess real-world problems. The key word to this technology is Geography – this means that some portion of the data is spatial; that is, data that is in some way referenced to locations on the earth. Coupled with this data is usually tabular data known as attribute data. Attribute data can be generally defined as additional information about each of the spatial features. An example of this would be land parcels. The actual location of the parcels is the spatial data. Additional data such as the owner name, address, zoning classification, acreage, and school district, would make up the attribute data. It is the partnership of these two data types that enables GIS to be such an effective problem solving tool through spatial analysis so that additional knowledge of a particular location or area may be gained. For example, “how many land parcels are zoned commercial, greater than 1-acre in size, and within the 100-year floodplain?”

GIS has the unique ability to tie spatial and tabular information together in a common system that can be shared throughout each County department and also readily distributed to businesses and private citizens who rely on these data. GIS is a great tool not just for mapping, but also attaching database attributes to each map feature to allow for advanced retrieval and analysis. GIS enables County staff to rapidly integrate combinations of maps and data. Most importantly, GIS allows for massive amounts of data to be quickly turned into information that can be analyzed and efficiently communicated to people in the form of easy-to-visualize maps, charts, and reports.

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