The Great Smoke Pit Roundup

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The Great Smoke Pit Roundup

In Gee Whiz, GeoBase & Drafting, News, Spatial Databases | on June, 07, 2017 | by | 0 Comments

**If your installation needs the following product contact support@theexpeditionaryengineer.com**

I have found the most interesting side projects I have ever had the chance to be involved with usually came in association to a conversation I walked into.  On Monday this week I had been talking with our local GIS contractor about issues associated to gathering information from diverse groups of individuals.  The conversation was a result of him having had a meeting with leadership going over changes in the tobacco use policy.  On our installation alone, there are numerous agencies who do not have access to the same network where the GeoBase map server operates from.  Sadly, that left a huge segment of the population unable or incapable of accessing the simple map system he had established to collect and gather spatial data about smoke pits.  As he walked out of my office, he stated in a roundabout way that he wished there was something as simple as Google Maps that could be leveraged to get this data call done.  Something intuitive that everyone could access without an issue.  Something about that stuck with my mind, but didn’t quite click.  Recently I have been pretty distracted getting prepared for a huge life shift so it took a bit for lightning to strike, but when it did….Google Maps became reality.

For years, I have owned and operated my own web server(s) and websites.  Sometimes I do things that actually make some extra side money, other times it’s for things like this website and/or other interesting side projects.  Last year, I designed and built the Arctic Thunder Open House website which featured a Google Map that had GeoBase derived data overlayed on top of the map and even included some geolocation capabilities in it.

Here is quick link to the full size version of the map vs. the one framed onto the site:  ATOH Map.

Since the open house completed, I had been mulling over the idea of creating a pseudo C2 type map system that would support the organizers the following year.  A nice/decent way of tracking your personnel and identifying spatial where things needed to happen, ie. more ice, lost kid, tripping hazard, etc.  As I had done the research and spent the time trying to figure out how to do it, I knew there were a couple of ways to go.  I could have went the direction of using Google Firebase, Google Fusion Tables, or MySQL.  There were a couple of other options, but those were the ones I was entertaining of even exploring for the next open house.  There are a few problems though when wanting to work with Google products on a DoD network, 9 times out of 10, they don’t work if you are a regular guy like me.  If I worked in COM, I probably would have a long drawn out explanation as to why I could gain access to things like OneDrive (MS), Google Drive, and others and why the regular guys don’t, however I don’t work in COM so the mystery remains.  I have a feeling it’s a risk based decision more than anything else.  Nonetheless, most of the fun Google tools that make things easier don’t work within our environment so out of the available options, I was left with a MySQL choice.

Now MySQL comes in a couple of different flavors.  Due to some recent decisions on my end, I had a MySQL database that wasn’t capable of storing spatial data the way ESRI or any other GIS based software likes it to be.  I could have made a course correction and fixed it, but then came the other issue of the data connection through the installation’s firewall.  Essentially, too big of an unknown to deal with so there was no point in fixing the database to be spatially compliant.  To overcome the obvious issue, I decided to design the spatial data collection system to collect X,Y data via the Google Maps API.  Add in a simple submission form for facility number and you have yourself a very simple PNE (no Z or D) file that can be imported into ArcGIS if properly formatted.

So, I just realized that it would have been a great idea to have a simple sample map as part of this story or a link to one that is, but I blanked so screenshots will have to do for the time being.  However, if your base needs a similar tool for a short period of time, drop me a line at the referenced e-mail address at the top of the article and I’ll get something running for you in a day or so.

General overview map showing points on the map.

After right clicking, the pin drops onto the map and can be dragged around. When positioned, the end user can update the facility number and click save. Upon clicking save, the x,y and facility number are loaded into the database.

This is how another end user and/or administrator would see the dropped pin after a recent map refresh. If the pin is not required, the user and/or administrator can click delete and it will be removed from the database.

The only thing I am probably going to be adjusting the pins to something along the lines of a pin with a cigarette on it or something along those lines tonight, but all in all, its a great simple tool that gets the job done without a ton of engineering required to make it happen.