Bringing GIS to the General Public

Q&A with Angela Hamilton, program lead, Mixed Emerging Technology Integration Lab, Institute for Simulation and Training, UCF


Angela Hamilton first joined the University of Central Florida (UCF) as an undergraduate student, earning her bachelor’s degree in digital media with a specialization in technical writing. She then went on to become a member of the research faculty at UCF’s Institute for Simulation and Training while pursuing a master’s degree in technical communication and more recently earning a graduate certificate in GIS.

For the past 12 years, she has worked in the Institute’s Mixed Emerging Technology Integration Lab (METIL). Hamilton became a USGIF Individual Member in 2018 and aims to apply her lifelong passion for geography to explore how METIL can integrate geospatial technology into some of its initiatives.

How would you describe the work of the Institute and METIL?

We are a research arm of the university, and partner with industry and government on human-centric simulation (as opposed to machine-centric) to improve training and education outcomes. Within METIL, we do a subset of that, focused on taking off-the-shelf and other emerging technologies and integrating them for novel applications rather than building new technologies from scratch. Instead of reinventing the wheel, we look for new applications of existing technologies like IoT, AI, AR/VR, cybersecurity, and blockchain paired with advanced simulation that we can integrate in a creative way to solve real-world problems.

What are some examples of this?

Angela Hamilton

A lot of our military work is in health care simulation. In WWII, special decks of cards service members used to play poker served a dual training purpose that helped them memorize the silhouettes of different aircraft profiles. Something similar was done during the wars in the Middle East to memorize the most wanted terrorists. This reinforces training content while soldiers are having fun.

We created a similar training card framework for Army combat medics, incorporating golden hour procedures for tactical combat casualty care and other sequential steps medics go through. We did physical cards with an augmented reality layer to visualize the procedures and a mobile app based on cognitive spacing algorithms for reinforcement. Based on the flexibility of the framework, we also made rapid response versions for Ebola and cybersecurity, and more recently have done versions for Navy recruits. A lot of what we do is geared toward taking academic research and development done in the lab for the military and transitioning it to broader applications and audiences.

How does this work connect to geography?

Hurricanes have been on our minds in Florida a lot the last couple of years with three direct hits in the last two hurricane seasons. It really made an impact on me looking at some of the GIS tools that are available. So many are for first responders, but some might be for the general public where you can go on and find out what flood zone you are in, for example.

Everything is done in silos and all of these different data streams aren’t integrated. We’ve created portal dashboards that can link out to all of that disparate information. We actually did it in real time, starting the project during Hurricane Harvey and then dealing with Irma and Maria. The dashboards were built from a GIS perspective as far as where supplies are located, which gas stations are open, and so on, because GIS is such a critical need during and after natural disasters.

Who used these tools?

During Hurricanes Harvey, Maria, and Irma we worked with an outside group through a public-private partnership, with our students and faculty supporting Kant Consulting to leverage a generous donation of the use of SitScape. Through that outlet, the dashboard was shared with first responders and government agencies to merge a lot of the different portals and resources those groups use. Some popular modules and tools had more than 20,000 users, with an average of 5,000 users during each disaster. The same architectures and principals we developed for the portal could be applied anywhere.

What are you working on currently?

We’ve been integrating a lot of these data feeds, taking it one step further so we’re prepared and not doing so in the midst of a crisis. Instead, we want to plan the architecture and get the data feeds before a crisis so it’s not quite so time-critical and ad hoc. For example, getting data on where supplies are located to reduce congestion on roads before and after a disaster, so people aren’t blindly looking for what they need. Another area we are involved in is the integration of GIS and blockchain into our smart city initiatives and ecosystems.

Why did you join USGIF and how has it helped you reach your goals?

For the last few years, I’ve been looking into ways to integrate GIS into our research and development agenda. In the past, GIS tended to be a feature in a lot of the apps we developed, and I’m trying to shift toward doing GIS-focused projects where that is the main platform or interface. Our goal is to take the GIS applications beyond the primary domains they’re in right now—government agencies, first responders, emergency planners—and bring novel GIS applications to the general public. Last year, at the GEOINT Symposium, I was able to see what the technological landscape is and hear directly from experts and users about what their visions are in these areas.

Featured image: Prototype 3D visualization of Hurricane Maria flood data in Puerto Rico. (Image credit: UCF IST)


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