Mapping the Guard

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Rowan GIS specialist, students map N.J. National Guard installations in layers.

It’s not yet noon on the sprawling National Guard Readiness Center off Delsea Drive in Vineland and it’s already 95 degrees but the job at hand is pretty cool.

Using satelline-enabled cameras and survey equipment, two Rowan University geography students and Rowan GIS specialist John Reiser are diagramming and cataloguing the massive facility.

The goal: to collect usable data about virtually every external feature of the center to better inform decisions about equipment, capital investment, maintenance, security and a host of other issues relevant to operations.

At its most basic, GIS, or a geographic information system, is a process of capturing, analyzing, managing, storing and presenting layers of data related to a location. In other words, it’s not your daddy’s fold-out map.

“GIS is much more than making maps,” Reiser said. “It’s an always-on database that stores information and performs analysis on information on, above and below the surface of the earth.”

Reiser, who has been contracted to document the exterior features of every National Guard readiness center in the state, is taking GPS-coded still and video images of every wall, fence post, sidewalk, parking space, utility pole, sewer drain, etc., so there is a concrete, permanent record of what exists on site and precisely where it is.

“There’s really a lot,” said Reiser, who also teaches introduction and advanced classes on GIS at Rowan. “We’re mapping things like valve heads, man hole covers, even broken concrete.”

He said because the National Guard is an extension of the U.S. Army and Air Force  but is composed of state-based units he has to consider both federal and New Jersey officials’ interests in compiling his reports.

“The federal government wants basic reporting for a ‘common installation picture’ – things like parking lots, buildings and other features common to sites. The state wants us to go a little further with additional information like the number of parking spaces, individual sidewalks, exterior square footage and the number of wash basins for vehicles,” Reiser said.

He and his staff spend several days at every site, take hundreds of digital, GPS-coded photographs and video images, and post a report of the work online. Ultimately, he said, the reports will be supplemented with demographic information about the area that each of the 30 to 40 state readiness centers serve.

Reiser said there is great job potential for students with GIS experience, both within various levels of government and in the private sector, from engineering firms to Fortune 500 companies. He noted that one recent Rowan geography graduate found a position in GIS with retailer The Gap, a job that involved GIS assessments for warehousing, distribution channels, store locations and more.

“GIS is becoming very important to any organization that relies on spatial information and maps,” he said.

Senior environmental studies major Matt Boegemann, 22, of Hamilton Township, Mercer County, believes the hands-on experience he’s developing through the National Guard GIS Internship Program will help set him apart in the job market.

“This will help build the kind of job experience employers want,” he said. “Plus, we’re learning how government contracting works and that could be helpful too.”

Senior Matt Cowans, 21, of Berlin, a geography major, hopes the experience leads him to a career in urban redevelopment.

Said Cowans, “it’s a great way to apply things you learn in the classroom to the real world.”

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