When was the last time someone gave you directions to get to a party at a friend’s house? They would usually say something like this. “Do you know where Mr. T lives? Well, when you pass by the big hairy mango tree in the corner by Mr. T’s house, turn left and follow the road until you meet the bridge crossing in the ghaut. After you pass the bridge, take the next right onto the dirt road. You will see an orange house with a white fence. Keep going along that road, then you will see a white, upstairs and downstairs house with red shingles on the roof. The party will be by my friend Mr. D, who lives in the blue house, two houses down from there”.
The reality is, that in the absence of proper addressing systems, especially in the Caribbean, we rely on directions like these from our friends. Thankfully, however, even without noticing, we all use geospatial data.
By answering the question, “Do you know where Mr. Z lives?”, you are being given a moment to find your point of reference for orientation. All directions that follow are then referenced to this known location.
Similarly, the geographic location of real-world features on earth (natural or constructed) is what powers geospatial data. By utilizing the appropriate co-ordinate system, these locations can be displayed in the right location on a map.
Lavern Rogers-Ryan is a geospatial consultant specialising in disaster risk management and recovery. She is currently head of the GIS Centre within the Government of Montserrat. Learn more about geospatial services in disasters at www.lavernrogersryan.com.