GIS Consulting at NCC

Jonathan Bell: GIS Project Lead: Biodiversity Conservation Services
15 May 2020

A large scale view of the CPFPA wildfire risk assessment ArcGIS Online web mapping application. This image depicts the risk to life and risk economy as a result of a wildfire event for Cape Town’s city bowl (Image: Jonathan Bell, 2020).

NCC is a leader in spatial and attribute data analytics for a wide variety of sectors. NCC uses scientifically proven methods, combined with the latest commercial and opensource technologies, to design data-driven, decision-making solutions for our clients and associates.

A geographic information system or GIS can be described as a framework for gathering, managing, manipulating, analysing, storing, and sharing of both spatial and attribute datasets. It is essentially a collection of software that can be used to process, analyse, and represent large quantities of information and data to a wide audience of end users. What makes GIS so powerful is the ability to combine and analyse many layers together in conjunction with performing analysis. This analysis can be used to ascertain valuable representations of data that often reveal patterns and trends over time. Many organisations, in virtually every field, are using GIS to make maps that communicate, perform analysis, and share information.  Applications of GIS include identifying problems, monitoring change, managing and responding to events, setting priorities, preforming forecasting, and understanding trends. When considering the magnitude and scale of the possibilities of GIS, there are no truer words than those spoken by the founder and CEO of ESRI, Jack Dangermond; “…the application of GIS is limited only by the imagination of those who use it.”

The power of GIS rallies on the ability to combine and analyse many layers of spatial and attribute datasets together to perform analyses and solve real world problems.

Many organisations, in virtually every field, are using GIS to make maps that communicate, perform analysis, and share information.

Providing data-driven solutions

NCC’s GIS and data analysis unit has designed customised GIS solutions and specialised analyses for a wide variety of clients across varied industries. For example, NCC conducted site assessments and field verifications of invasive alien vegetation for South African National Parks.  The infield spatial and attribute datasets were used to accurately quantify the density and distribution of invasive alien vegetation within Table Mountain National Park. This provided the background information for Park Management to make data-driven decisions pertaining to key resource allocation, budget requirements, and set priorities for invasive alien vegetation management initiatives.

Representing the distribution and density in percentage of invasive alien vegetation within Table Mountain National Park using GIS (Image: Jonathan Bell, 2020).

The CPFPA Wildlife-Urban Interchange

In addition, NCC was responsible for mapping and analysing the risk of wildfire to life and economy along the Cape Peninsula Fire Protection Association’s wildland-urban interchange. This project was funded by the World Wide Fund for Nature: Table Mountain Fund and the Volunteer Wildfire Services. The project  steering committee consisted of representatives from the Western Cape Disaster Management: Fire Rescue services, CapeNature, South African National Parks: Table Mountain National Park, City of Cape Town: Environmental Resource Department and Fire Rescue Services, and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.

NCC designed a custom-built algorithm that analysed four categories of input data: land use, vegetation type and age, slope in percentage rise; and emergency rescue service’s response time in minutes. Using the SANS 31 000:2010 risk management guidelines and principles, the risk to life and economy was graphically mapped in four key categories; extreme risk, high risk, medium risk, and low risk. In order to provide an innovative solution for data housing and representation, NCC designed a custom ESRI ArcGIS web application for the Cape Peninsula Fire Protection Association’s management team. The data was housed and represented in operations-style dashboard, allowing the Cape Peninsula Fire Protection Association’s management team to make data-driven decisions as to where the overall risk is located and what the contributing factors to the risk are. The Cape Peninsula Fire Protection Association management team can now appropriately assess potential wildfire scenarios, implementing risk reduction and pre-wildfire mitigation measures moving towards holistic and integrated wildfire management.

Complete view of the CPFPA wildland-urban interchange wildfire risk assessment ArcGIS Online web mapping application. This image depicts the risk to life and risk economy as a result of a wildfire incident for the entire City of Cape Town Metropole (Image: Jonathan Bell, 2020).

GIS as a Data Management tool

In addition to offering outsourced GIS consulting services, NCC uses GIS as an internal platform across our various business units and service offerings. Beit faunal impact assessments, botanical impact assessments, freshwater assessments, botanical search and rescue operations, habitat suitability modelling, site suitability analyses, renewable energy planning and implementation, human wildfire conflict, and alien invasive species monitoring and management, NCC uses some form of GIS based spatial and attribute data analytics in the form of high resolution maps, charts, statistics, web maps and web applications.

View of an internal decision support dashboard used by NCC’s Invasive Species Specialists to accurately report on the location, distribution, and density of the invasive S. gutturalis within the City of Cape Town (Image: Jonathan Bell, 2020).

NCC’s GIS and data analysis unit uses the latest commercial and open source software to conduct its GIS and data analytics workflows. A firm favourite is ESRI’s suite of software and extension options, with ArcGIS Pro and ArcGIS Online taking the top spot. However, NCC’s new crop of GIS Technicians are starting to lean towards opensource options such as the QGIS.  

The prominent quote “junk in, junk out” in GIS refers to the fact that if the GIS analyst enters subpar spatial or attribute dataset into the system, the system will return a subpar result or finding.  As such, NCC’s approach is unique as it prioritises a bottom-up customer driven approach to designing and implementing its GIS service offerings. NCC utilises a wide variety of professional specialist stakeholders to ensure that all analyses and end products conform to the highest standards. All analyse are back tested against real world scenarios and adjusted where required. In addition, NCC engages with the client to ensure an inclusive journey that leads to a goal orientated outcome in line with client requirements and satisfaction.

GIS reduces time and effort in any decision-making process.

It is well known that there many ways to “skin a cat” and GIS is one possible solution for gathering, managing, manipulating, analysing, storing, representing, and sharing large spatial and attribute datasets. It is evident that GIS is just one of the many tools available for data analytics, and when combined with expert knowledge and experience, the functionality of GIS is exponential where the “sky is the limit.” NCC is unique in the way in which it combines the use of GIS with over 30 years of integrated expert knowledge and experience, without which, GIS would fall flat.

In a fast paced and dynamic world where information is required at your fingertips and “working smarter, rather than harder” is the underlying principle of many organisations, GIS can be used to integrate large quantities of data into a compact decision-making platform – reducing time and effort in any decision-making process. The underlying question is… why scroll through an Excel spreadsheet containing 1000’s of data points when you can summarise the data on a map, chart, graph, or even better, in an interactive web mapping application?

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