AGI Northern Ireland

The Intersection of GI and COVID-19 in Northern Ireland

Just like the rest of the world, Northern Ireland (NI) is facing unprecedented times with the COVID-19 pandemic. During the last few months, GI professionals across the country have been stepping up and helping organisations and local communities alike. These efforts to leverage spatial data and information can be seen in the work of various individuals and teams throughout the public and private sectors, both regionally and locally.

We have seen a number of local councils publishing maps online to communicate local services that are open and closed as well as disseminate information to local citizens.

Individual GIS professionals and enthusiasts, including Geolytical founder and AGI NI Committee member, John Hewitt, have set up information hubs in their communities to share important information and to link local volunteers with requests for help.

During the initial NI-wide lockdown in March, a grass roots movement to support the local restaurant and café trade in conjunction with Belfast Telegraph was augmented with a map showing those establishments that are open for collection and/or delivery, thereby helping to support a vital sector for local economy. ESRI Ireland’s Market Engagement Manager and AGI NI Committee member, Rachel Steenson, updated this map in her spare time.

The IT sector, both established and start-up, have rallied to look at how we can create solutions to help with contract tracing through the use of sensors and spatial analysis.

Staff at the Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland have been providing GI and mapping support to various NI Civil Service departments as they continue to respond to the ongoing crisis. For instance, they’re supporting the Dept. of Health and The Executive Office as they disseminate information about local and regional restrictions to slow the spread of the virus; the Dept. of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs as it builds its own internal Information Hub that provides access to impactful authoritative datasets to hundreds of workers across the department; and the NI Assembly as it seeks to leverage spatial data in support of decision-making.

The call for collaboration and data sharing is stronger than ever. More and more spatial datasets are being shared in a variety of publicly accessible data portals including Spatial NI  Open Data NI , and of course ArcGIS Online, as well as countless internal data portals and catalogues – areas affected by local restrictions, location of care homes and hospitals, distribution of emergency shelters, indices of potentially vulnerable areas, and many more! Importantly, the availability and access to spatial data can only be part of COVID-19 response if there are people—skilled professionals—able to leverage these datasets for the public good. If there is a silver lining to this pandemic, it’s the fact that it has highlighted the power of GI and the importance of GI professionals on a global scale.

Rachel Steenson and Rico Santiago (AGI NI Committee Members)