Bahamas to host major Caribbean Geographic Information Systems (GIS) conference

NASSAU, The Bahamas – Hundreds of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) users from the region and around the globe will gather in New Providence October 30- November 2, 2006 for the third Urban and Regional Information Systems Association (URISA) Caribbean GIS Conference.

The conference, which will commence Monday, October 30, with a number of specialized workshops, will focus on the effective application of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and other information technologies in the Caribbean.

It is being held under the auspices of the Office of the Prime Minister through the Bahamas National Geographic Information Systems (BNGIS) Centre.

Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie will deliver the keynote address during the official opening ceremonies on Tuesday, October 31. Conference participants will also hear from top executives of URISA. Thirty-two comprehensive educational sessions covering 100 presentations will fill the program.

Ms. Carolann Albury, chairperson of the Conference Committee and Director of the BNGIS Centre, said Tuesday (August 14) that there are six major objectives of the Conference.

They are to inform a cross-section of Caribbean GIS users about GIS technology and applications; to share experiences regarding GIS implementation and management issues; to establish new relationships with the vendor/consultant community; to provide workshops and sessions that are application driven and relevant to the Caribbean Community of GIS Users; to assess the state of readiness of national and regional Spatial Data Infrastructures; and, to foster a Caribbean GIS Network.

Topics to be discussed during the conference sessions include the use of GIS in disaster management, law enforcement, public health and safety, urban planning, land resources and land use, coastal resource management, education, utilities, business and organizational GIS — all critical to the way forward for the The Bahamas and other countries.

Ms. Albury said that GIS Use is the “wave of the future” and that its use will have far-reaching impact on future development, planning and policy issues in The Bahamas. She said the Government of The Bahamas, through the Office of the Prime Minister and the BNGIS Centre, will focus on “making this a very exciting conference in collaboration with the persons from URISA.”

“GIS use impacts our everyday lives, be it in business, disaster management, mitigation and planning, land use policy planning, coastal zone management, tourism, education, healthcare, infrastructural development as it relates to utilities and new housing developments and so much more,” said Ms. Albury.

“What the conference will allow us to do is to really bring it home on what GIS can do; the various applications involved with GIS and growing the GIS community, not only in the region, but globally,” she added.

Mrs. Valrie Grant-Harry, a GIS consultant and conference committee member, said the conference should serve as a great educational opportunity for newcomers to GIS while simultaneously presenting new perspectives and solidifying some concepts for those already involved in the process.

She said that for over 40 years, URISA has been the centre for information exchange among global professionals dealing with urban and regional issues. Mrs.Grant-Harry said many of these issues will be addressed during the pre-conference workshops which will focus on several key topics, including Spatial Data Infrastructure: Planning, Policy Strategy and Implementation – The Caribbean Reality; Asset Management: Planning, Strategy and Implementation and GIS Programme Management.

Mrs. Grant-Harry said the focus on building Spatial Data Infrastructures is of tremendous importance as governments worldwide are being challenged to develop Spatial Data Infrastructures and provide access to geospatial information upon which key decisions can be made.

She said the focus on Asset Management: Planning, Strategy and Information will entail a number of aspects involved in developing an Asset Management System for public and private use that could help improve performance, reduce long-term costs and maximize returns on investments in infrastructure assets.

Mrs. Grant-Harry said the conference committee has organized a number of exhibits to provide participants with an “excellent opportunity” to network and evaluate the products and services being offered by various vendors across the region and globally.

“The GIS committee understands that GIS is relatively new, especially for this region, and hence we will have various presentations, visual aids and other take-away materials for participants to really find out more about GIS,” she said.

Mrs. Grant-Harry said GIS use is “intertwined in our everyday activities” and that it impacts a country’s day-to-day activities in ways persons would never imagine.

“It touches us in terms of the banking sector; it touches us in terms of determining where new roads should go or where to re-route existing roads to avoid traffic congestion,” Mrs. Grant-Harry said.

“GIS touches our lives everyday, it’s just that we may not know that GIS is at work behind the scenes,” she added.

Ms. Albury and Mrs. Grant-Harry said focus will also be placed on the many “hot” career opportunities involved in GIS as there is a “very big demand” for GIS professionals in the Caribbean. Both said, however, that the demand for GIS professionals is not being met due to a shortage of GIS professionals in the region.

“So that in itself should speak volumes of the importance of getting the word out there and ensuring that folks get on board and realize that GIS is an option when it comes to choosing their careers,” Mrs. Grant-Harry said.

“The fact that The Bahamas was chosen as the site of the third URISA Conference speaks volumes to the growth of GIS use in the country and the fact that we should encourage even more growth,” she added.

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