Center Inception

gulf-shoresThe initial geospatial project was the idea of Auburn University professors, Dr. Chetan S. Sankar, Dr. P.K. Raju, and Barrry Cumbie, an Auburn Alumni. In 2007, the project began after Auburn University, the City of Gulf Shores, and local utilities began researching methods on how to help Baldwin County, Alabama, recover after a natural disaster strikes, an integral part of an NSF funded Partnership for Innovation Project NSF EEC # 0332594. The researchers found that by using Geospatial Information Systems (GIS), the original infrastructure facilities could be found and repaired in half the cost and time.

In the spring semester of 2008, the city of Gulf Shores, Auburn University faculty, and students engaged in a pilot project to study the disaster-recovery problem and possible solutions, including a process for acquiring critical field data, storing the data in a GIS, and presenting the data to field-based workforces. Under the direction of the city’s IT Manager and GIS coordinator, a coastal study area was selected, training on the GPS units was delivered, and several weekends were spent in the field collecting critical data. The city managers provided instructions for uploading the data to the GIS platform and reviewed the data with the students. The results were presented to the council members of the city of Gulf Shores and were received very favorably. The student team reported gains in project management skills and team working skills. The project team concluded that an extensive implementation of this project can greatly enhance the area’s economic development and societal well-being.

The project team applied to the Economic Development Administration for a grant under the Second Supplemental Appropriations Disaster Relief Opportunity EDA 01092009 and received a grant to pursue the project further (EDA Grant#G00004824).

The objectives of this project were to:

  • Effectively identify issues related to data storage, sharing, and security among coastal cities, utilities, and other stakeholders in Mobile and Baldwin counties of Alabama
  • Effectively collect, store, and retrieve infrastructure data from multiple partners in the Alabama coastal community,
  • Train the first responders and county personnel on effective use of the GIS data.

This project developed a  digital infrastructure that created and implemented a geospatial information system for the coastal areas of Alabama, while at the same time providing real-world problem-solving experience for university faculty members and students.

Based on the success of the project, the Geospatial Research and Applications Center (GRAC) was formed and approved by Auburn University in 2010.