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GCN : March and April 2016
GCN MARCH/APRIL 2016 • GCN.COM 31 Modern-day Chattanooga, Tenn., looks noth- ing like Victorian-era London. The former is lined with rocky ridges, buzzing with modern conveniences and kissed by the scent of fried chicken and fresh-baked MoonPies. The lat- ter was dense and damp, crowded with rodents and horses, stained with soot and awash in the sticky smell of sewage. Despite their stark differences, however, new Chat- tanooga and old London have at least two things in common: public health crises and geographic infor- mation systems. “GIS is how it was determined that cholera spread through the sewage and drinking systems in Lon- don and not the air,” said John Bilderback, a pro- gram manager at the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department. During the infamous 1854 chol- era outbreak that killed 616 Londoners in a matter of weeks, “they literally plotted the outbreak on a map as it was happening and were able to trace it all the way back to its source, then address the is- sue. In many ways, that was the foundation of public health, and GIS was responsible for it.” One hundred and fifty years later, in 2004, Hamil- ton County Mayor Claude Ramsey declared that his jurisdiction had its own public health emergency: obesity. In response, he established a countywide ini- tiative to promote physical fitness and healthy eat- ing called Step ONE (Optimize with Nutrition and Exercise). The health department repeatedly relied on GIS to identify and address community needs in pursuit of Step ONE’s goals. In 2012, for example, officials launched the Chattanooga Mobile Market, a mobile grocery store that brings healthy foods to commu- Geographic information systems are growing up, and the range of government services they power might surprise you BY MATT ALDERTON GIS COMES OF AGE 0416gcn_030-034.indd 31 3/3/16 9:51 AM
January and February 2016