GIS in sunny San Diego: Experiences of the 2015 Esri User Conference

Recently I was fortunate to attend the 2015 Esri User Conference in San Diego. It was a fantastically large and exciting event attended by over 16,000 people from 130 countries, showcasing broad and powerful applications of GIS. I felt particularly fortunate to be attending as the 2015 Esri Australia Young Scholar. As described previously on this blog (here) I was awarded the prize for work I completed using GIS to look at patterns of graffiti removal in Sydney, which allowed me to make some comments on the effectiveness of rapid-removal policies and the need to recognize diversity in graffiti practices. Winning this award provided me the opportunity to attend an event that I would not have been able to attend otherwise. It was an incredibly interesting, exciting, useful and inspiring experience. And even better, I got to share the experience with Young Scholar Award winners from other countries around the world! Here is a story map of all their interesting winning projects.

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I accepted my Young Scholar Award from Esri founder and president Jack Dangermond.

The opening plenary in particular resonated with me. Jack Dangermond presented exemplary examples of GIS from around the world and spoke about GIS as a process and a framework to apply geography everywhere. He described geography as the science that integrates all the other sciences, from hydrology, geology and climatology to anthropology and sociology, all resting on the spatial dimension – geography as the science of our world. Geography provides the context and the content that will help us understand and address the big challenges of our world today, he said. He spoke about a vision of “geographic enlightenment” where GIS is waking up the world to the power of geography and making for a better future, particularly in the face of global challenges like environment loss, climate change, and overpopulation.

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With my research poster in the Esri User Conference map gallery.

Panda at San Diego zoo.

Panda at San Diego zoo.

Given that most events I attend are quite academic research focused (which I also find very useful!), I appreciated the User Conference had a lot of variety in terms of sessions offered. Technical workshops on software applications, including both desktop GIS, like map projection trouble-shooting or python coding courses, and relatively new web GIS tools and mapping applications, such as story maps for presenting and sharing GIS maps or the collector app and Survey123 for collection of data in the field using smartphones, were really useful. I’m genuinely excited to try some of these new tools for my own research and in my teaching at university. The two-day education conference held before the main conference was also really useful, providing interesting and inspiring discussions about how people are teaching GIS and teaching with GIS around the world. Integrating GIS learning and projects with community needs and community projects, or service-learning, was a key theme.

Overall I found my first Esri UC experience super rewarding. I emphasize first because I’m hopeful I’ll have the opportunity to attend again in the future. It was educational, inspiring, and actually just really fun too. I met some really great people and the social events were equally as enjoyable and worthwhile as the main conference. While in sunny California I was also able to experience some of the San Diego sites, including the famous San Diego zoo, beaches, local watering holes, and major league baseball at Petco Park, where the local Padres had a win against the San Francisco giants!

The 2015 Esri Young Scholars from around the world.

The 2015 Esri Young Scholars from around the world.

Non-traditional volunteering: VGI and bushfire preparation (AFAC/BNHCRC 2014 conference poster)

Earlier this month I was fortunate to attend the annual Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council/Bushfire & Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre (AFAC/BNHCRC) conference in Wellington, New Zealand.  I presented a poster on some of my PhD research on the role of VGI in disaster preparation and community engagement in Tasmania, and here it is!
A PDF is available for download here: B.Haworth_BNHCRC-AFAC Poster-2014

Social media and crisis management: A Sydney conference


The Water Services Sector Group’s Social Media Conference was recently held in Sydney and I had the pleasure of attending. With a focus on crisis management and disaster response, a number of key speakers from various parts of the world shared their insights and experiences in the growing field of social media, which all agreed is now an undeniably important component of modern society. 

Melanie Irons spoke of the pivotal role of social media in mobilising a community through her Facebook page in response to the 2013 Tasmania bushfires. Suzanne Bernier used examples such as the ‘Yes we can’ Obama campaign and ‘Domino’s Pizza Scandal’ YouTube videos to illustrate the role of social media in shaping the reputation of individuals and organizations, demonstrating the impact social media use can have to define, destroy, or strengthen during crisis scenarios. Caroline Milligan described the concept of a ‘Virtual Operations Support Team’ with key events such as the London 2012 Olympics or Hurricane Sandy having much of their social media crisis preparation and response performed virtually by her team based in New Zealand. And Charlie Hawkins demonstrated some of the latest social media harnessing and visualization tools developed by the CSIRO. 

While shortcomings were noted, such as the need for report verification, rumour control and negative posts, the overall consensus was the positive attributes of social media use in crisis management, such as the facilitation of coordination and collaboration, speed of information transfer, bi-directional communication and individual empowerment, far outweighed the negative. The message of the day was clear: social media is here to stay. It needs to be incorporated into emergency management strategies and policy in order to foster the most effective collaboration between connected communities and official information sources. The general public now expect authorities and organizations to be active on social media. How organizations respond to this expectation and how they conduct themselves by involving (or not involving) themselves in social media conversations can directly impact their perceived credibility and overall effectiveness both in disaster situations, and in public more broadly.