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What is GIS?

Geographic Information Systems. Sure, it sounds techie, but chances are you probably use an app that utilizes GIS every day without even knowing it.  The most common examples of GIS that you might be familiar with are Google Maps and WAZE apps. These tools not only map streets for you to reach your destination, but they can also identify coffee shops, gas stations, and hospitals along the way, creating a spatial landscape to efficiently navigate your community. At its foundation, that’s what GIS does—it visualizes information to make your life easier.  GIS technology is used in just about every field of work you can imagine, from scientific investigations and resource management to utility work and community planning. Many industries, including realtors, construction companies, and developers, use GIS daily.

For Flathead County, GIS is used to publish public information such as addresses, property ownership, and property values on our Interactive Mapping Application.  During the wildfires this summer, our GIS team also linked to datasets from national agencies to monitor smoke forecasts, providing specific details on air quality in Flathead County down to the street level.  Additionally, GIS is used in Flathead County to track the spread of mosquitos, to map COVID hotspots, and to manage septic permit applications, often highlighting patterns that can be used to help the County make more informed decisions. If the data exists, it can be mapped.

On the fun side of things, Flathead County’s GIS team also recently created a Halloween Map for the month of October to practice their GIS skills and engage the public. Users were invited to share their favorite haunted homes and Halloween events, which were then displayed on an interactive and responsive map for the public.  This “map-of-the-month” project wasn’t all fun and games though, as it provided our GIS team with a great opportunity to try out some new data management techniques that will be utilized in the future for more serious applications in Flathead County.

Now that you know a little more about what GIS is and how it’s used in Flathead County, take a few minutes to play with Flathead County's Mapping Applications. As a starting point, we recommend exploring some of the common apps shown to engage with specific goals and initiatives that interest you. New apps and tools are always being developed, so check back often for more innovative ways to explore and visualize this unique place we call home.