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GIS Enables Safe Communities

06-19-2017 04:53 PM
Esri Regular Contributor
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Counter Drug—Managing the Opioid Epidemic—Part Two of an Eight-Part Safe Communities Blog Series

By Carl Walter, National Security and Fusion Center Industry Manager • Esri Public Safety Team


Recent global events have shed light on the complex, interrelated worlds of public safety and national security. Civil unrest, crime, natural disasters, and widespread public health threats all reflect the heightened need for coordinated prevention activities and effective response capabilities. Geospatial technology is uniquely positioned as the technical platform to spearhead this coordination—including when the threat is a public health crisis like the ongoing opioid epidemic.


The opioid crisis is happening in every community and affecting every demographic. The hallmark of a safe community is having organizations use geographic information system (GIS) technology as a foundation for multiagency, multijurisdictional collaboration. Geography plays a role in managing any community emergency. While the opioid epidemic presents unique challenges, GIS technology enables governments to understand the who, where, when, and why in real time, potentially saving the lives of countless Americans.


Counterdrug agencies have a common goal of disrupting the market for illegal drugs by arresting and dismantling those involved in drug trafficking and related money laundering activities. Recently, drug overdose has become the leading cause of injury and death in the United States. Opioid abuse is a major contributor to this epidemic and now requires governments to rethink their drug enforcement strategies—making sure they better align with public health strategies—to save lives. What's more troubling is that, in the face of this public health crisis, prescriptions for opioids have reached an all-time high.


Creating tools in the field that enable real-time mapping of overdose incidents while protecting sensitive personal identifiers is a strategy worth exploring. These tools must allow first responders in the field a simple way to identify the location of an overdose, input basic information about the event, and submit that data in real time to an enterprise geographic information system. Once received, data can be leveraged using dashboards, Esri Story Maps apps, and other Web GIS tools so trends can be identified and information can be shared with decision-makers, relevant stakeholders, and even the public. A geocentric approach to managing this data in real time will allow officials to make lifesaving decisions with the goal of preventing further overdose cases.


The Washington/Baltimore High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program, the Department of Homeland Security Geospatial Management Office (GMO), and the Department of Justice (DOJ) are utilizing GIS to coordinate their drug-fighting and information sharing efforts. The integration of local law enforcement, health agencies, and communities allows them to improve their response to opioid overdoses by proactively identifying and monitoring indicators and warnings and sharing authoritative data in near real time (see,


Discover how GIS can help your community battle the opioid epidemic. Join us for our upcoming webinar on June 21 to explore the strategy of creating tools in the field to enable real-time mapping of overdose incidents while protecting sensitive personal identifiers.

Wednesday, June 21 | 9:00 a.m.–10:00 a.m. (PDT)

Register Now

About the Author
I am the Industry Specialist for Public Safety and Disaster Response Program. This includes Public Safety sub-markets of Law Enforcement, Homeland/National Security, Emergency Management, Emergency Communications, Humanitarian, Fraud Waste and Abuse, Corporate Security and Resilience, Fire/Rescue/EMS, and Wildland Fire. I also coordinate the Disaster Response Program and here at Esri. I manage the National Security Summit and National Security Showcase at the UC every year. I have been with Esri since 2000. Content I post may be from my team members and will be indicated in the by-line.