31 Jan

Company Spotlight: GISMO

By Katie Anderson

The use of GIS can be found in nearly all sectors of society, from GPS systems used in mapping applications, such as Lyft or Uber Eats, to 9-1-1 emergency response. The Geospatial Information Systems and Mapping Organization (GISMO) is New York City’s oldest GIS interest group. Founded in 1990 by Jack Eichenbaum, the organization has brought together like-minded individuals inspired by the development of Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Today, the organization is made up of hundreds of members across public, private, and city government sectors in New York City. Discussing GISMO’s work, the American Geographical Society (AGS) had the pleasure of speaking with Alan Leidner, former President of both GISMO and the NYS GIS Association, which represents the interests of the entire geospatial community within New York State. Emphasizing the importance of the government, private and civilian participation in GIS development, Mr. Leidner explained, “GIS is really a technology that benefits the public as a whole. It applies to everyone doing everything.”

Presently, GISMO is affiliated with the NYS GIS Association as its Greater New York City Area Chapter, and is able to reach thousands of GIS practitioners, users, and associations via the Coalition of Geographic Information and Technology Organizations (COGITO), which facilitates geospatial collaboration across the tri-state area. Mr. Leidner explained how such cooperative relationships enable data to be shared more effectively across jurisdictional borders at the statewide, regional, and local levels.

From 1995 to 1999, GISMO supported the development of the official basemap of New York City, which has been vital to the City’s crisis management, and was crucial for first responders navigating the densely populated metropolitan following the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Having a highly accurate and comprehensive basemap enabled the NYC Office of Emergency, supported by GISMO volunteers, to establish a framework to rapidly integrate spatially-enabled data from the response community, creating thousands of maps during the first weeks of the response. Since 9/11, City agencies have developed dozens of applications that employ its spatial data, which has led to the creation of over 1,000 map layers. 

With the basemap and geospatial infrastructure set in place, New York City has been able to provide open access to hundreds of its spatial data layers via the NYC Open Data portal, and has also prompted other cities to follow suit. These spatial layers allow users to zoom in all the way down to the block and building level, with the data being downloadable by the public. 

In addition to working with the city to create basemap and operations related layers, GISMO has been advocating for the mapping of New York City’s underground utility networks for over 20 years. Despite over a century of underground transportation in the city, a lack of knowledge about the location and depth of the subterranean system’s infrastructure persists. After Hurricane Ida struck New York in September of 2021 however – the second most costly storm to hit the U.S. after Hurricane Katrina –  the City designated $10 million of Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) disaster relief funds to be used to map the underground infrastructure and to consolidate and digitize tens of thousands of geological borings. 

As a prelude to this City initiative, GISMO helped NYU win a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation to explore different methods and technologies used for an underground infrastructure mapping project. This initiative, Unification for Underground Resilience Measures (UNUM) makes use of an underground infrastructure data model, MUDDI, which was recently developed by a Standards Working Group of the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC), upon which NYU and GISMO experts served. Seeking ways to bring utility owners and City infrastructure agencies together, UNUM engaged community partners in its underground mapping efforts. And most recently, it was agreed upon by the UNUM project lead, NYU Professor Debra Laefer, to transfer the project to the City for implementation. NYC GISMO’s current President, Jiin Wen, continues to lead the organization in identifying and promoting new spatial technologies and applications beneficial to NYC and its residents.