Information referring to places and events relative to their location on the earth’s surface is often defined as geographic or spatial data. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are computer systems designed to store, retrieve, analyze, and display geographic data. Fundamental to the design of GIS is the integration of geographic data with information about the geographic feature. Many types of information about our community are stored in distinct map layers. These layers contain point, line and polygon map features. An incident of a crime or a permit location may be stored as a point. Roads, water mains, and rivers are stored as lines. Parcels, school districts, and zip codes are stored as polygons.
Using GIS tools, we can create graphical displays of this data and perform spatial analysis. These “intelligent maps” provide information about a region such as where people live and work, where growth and development occur, locations of utilities and public facilities, locations of environmentally sensitive lands and much more.
Beginning in the 1960′s, experts from a wide variety of disciplines began to experiment with the use of computer systems for storing and manipulating geographic information. From the start, these professionals were driven by a need for tools and procedures to solve the practical problems of their disciplines. This practical orientation continues to drive what has become a multi-million dollar industry, with applications ranging from retail site location to environmental impact analysis.
The five major components of a GIS are data, software, hardware, people and procedures. By putting these pieces together, public agencies and private companies are finding that the use of GIS technologies translates into substantial benefits by providing competitive business advantages and improved customer services.