By: Kallie O’Donnell
The NEPA Alliance is a private nonprofit that focuses on various aspects of community and economic development including business finance, local government assistance, nonprofit development, and transportation. The organization serves 7 counties in Northeastern Pennsylvania covering over 4,500 square miles (an area 4 times the state of Rhode Island).
The American Geographical Society had the opportunity to sit down with NEPA to learn more about how GIS is used on a smaller scale to inform residents and influence policy.
Jeffrey Box, President & Chief Executive Officer of NEPA Alliance, and Annette Ginocchetti, GIS Services Manager, met with us to discuss how their respective organizations have used geospatial innovation to increase public accessibility to information and services throughout the past year.
One of the NEPA Alliance’s most recent projects during the COVID-19 pandemic was the development of the NEPA COVID-19 Response Hub. The original purpose of the Hub was to create a landing page for the NEPA Business Finance Corporation to host local, state, and federal loan information for small businesses in the region, in addition to its dashboards that showcased the most accurate information regarding local COVID-19 trends. It has since taken on a whole other life as a one-stop shop for all things NEPA GIS.
ArcGIS Hubs are accessible to users whose native language is English, and at the start of the pandemic, it was realized that no tool existed in their system to translate the data into other languages. The issue came to light when a city with a large Spanish-speaking population became a COVID-19 hotspot, and the NEPA COVID-19 Hub was rendered almost useless as the information was only presented in English. The users that could have benefited from it the most were also the users unable to read it. This provoked the team to reach out to ESRI for assistance in developing a tool that automatically translates ESRI ArcGIS Hub websites. Now, on the Hub, a button appears on the side where users can easily translate the entire site into different languages.
Another NEPA Alliance GIS initiative that gained much attention during the onset of the pandemic is their “Find A Food Pantry” interactive map (pictured below). The online, interactive map not only helps users find their nearest food pantry, but it also highlights routes of public transportation. By making GIS more accessible and user-friendly, the NEPA Alliance has been able to use geospatial technology to materially improve the lives of those who need it most.
Since the development of the Hub, NEPA Alliance has emphasized the importance of updating existing data, while finding new, creative ways to display information in a functional and sustainable manner. The Hub is now the all-inclusive site for all things NEPA GIS. They believe that continuing to publish great work will have a positive impact on how people see Northeastern Pennsylvania.
You can learn more about NEPA Alliance on their website: https://nepa-alliance.org/
NEPA GIS Hub: https://nepa-gis-nepa-alliance.hub.arcgis.com/
NEPA Covid-19 Hub: https://nepa-coronavirus-response-nepa-alliance.hub.arcgis.com/