Beverly Butcher: GIS — more than just mapping

Published 6:20 pm Tuesday, November 13, 2018

When someone asks me the question, “What do you do?” I usually reply, “I make maps.” That is usually followed by asking if I use Google Maps. I reply, “no, I use ‘GIS.’” Their next question is “What is GIS?” Then, I teasingly explain that it is a fancy name for maps. But it is really a lot more than just making maps. It is creating geographic data, managing the data, analyzing it and … displaying it on a map or in an app or website.
In the GIS (Geographic Information Systems) world, most people think GIS is only about making maps, but it is so much more. GIS is 66 percent information and only 33 percent maps. Creating data begins by gathering information about a given community which assists our governments in making better decisions. This information can be used as a tool in both problem solving and decision-making processes. GIS technology is a crucial part of any city or county government. It allows the gathering of information on any assets owned or maintained by the city or county.
Once this information is gathered and mapped, it can be quickly accessed and managed. GIS is about the power of “where.” Where is this address? Where is this waterline? Where is this fire hydrant? Where was the path of the tornado? Where were the damages? Putting information into GIS is called data capture. GIS is everywhere. It is in government, industry, health care, E911, travel, etc. GPS equipment and aerial imagery are two examples of how some data is collected. Once collected, data is then used to develop databases. As much information as needed can be added to these databases.
The information is then analyzed and can be shared with elected officials, government leaders and department staff to assist in their decision making.
And last, we displayed (mapped) to provide information to elected officials, first responders, utility departments, the public, etc. The GIS Department of the City of Americus has also developed a GIS website and specific apps for staff, first responders, and the public to access available GIS information.
National GIS Day is Wednesday, Nov, 14 this year. GIS Day is an annual event celebrating the technology of geographic information systems (GIS). It’s a good initiative for people to learn about geography and the many uses of GIS. The GIS Department is located on the second floor of Americus City Hall and is supported by two staff personnel. Through this office GIS services are provided to Americus, Sumter County, Andersonville, Plains, Leslie, DeSoto, and Middle Flint Regional E-911. This department was created in 1999, by then city administrator, Sybil Smith. I was hired at that time to create and develop the department. Over the past 20 years we have developed over 100 GIS layers of information. This information includes, but is not limited to: addresses, road/street centerlines, zoning, tax parcels, storm damages, utility locations, districts, etc.
GIS is all about information, and people strive for as much information as possible. GIS can provide unlimited, and I mean unlimited, amounts of information.
Please visit our GIS Webpages at
and our facebook page Americus and Sumter County GIS

Beverly Butcher is GIS manager, Americus-Sumter GIS.