The Planning Authority, in collaboration with a number of stakeholders, is developing Malta’s first national spatial data infrastructure through a €7million EU-funded project known as  SIntegraM. What does this project have to offer?

IT has reshaped both the business world and society. We have grown to become ever more dependent on technology, data and information. Whether we know it or not, we may be interacting with spatial data every day. If one uses a smartphone or a Global Positioning System (GPS) for directions to a particular place, or if one asks a search engine for the locations of seafood restaurants near a physical address or landmark, one is using applications relying on spatial data.

But what is spatial data? Put simply, it is information about a physical object that can be represented by numerical values in a geographic coordinate system. It makes the difficult-to-understand world of data simple – how? Through maps, images and three-dimensional visualisation, while ensuring the highest standards to policy and data protection.

Generally speaking, spatial data represents the location, size and shape of an object on planet earth such as a building, valley, mountain or harbour area.

So why is the so-called SIntegraM project so important for Malta? This project offers a new strategic approach into how spatial data will be collected, managed, analysised and made available.

Not only is a new base map being created using the latest aerial, terrestrial and marine technologies but all the acquired data can be used to make accurate, in-depth analysis for planning, scenario building, predictive modelling and even controlling accidents.

SIntegraM will introduce the concept of free exchange of data and cost-sharing across governmental entities through a secure structure. It brings about a mentality shift where all information is provided free to all government entities. 

To ensure that within government entities there will be the human capacity and expertise to plug in and maximise the holistic advantages of this new infrustructure, the Planning Authority has also launched a scheme offering scholarships in the field of geospatial technology (Geomatics) for those employed within the public service.

We have grown to become ever more dependent on technology

This is through a sister project called SpatialTRAIN. For this purpose public service employees may attain a qualification in geomatics at Certificate, Diploma, Bachelor, Degree or Master’s levels. Together with the training component of the SIntegraM project, the scholarships will ensure the enhancement of human capacity in the spatial themes across all governmental entities.

Government entities collect and manage vast amounts of data – all tied to location. Once this data is automatically mapped out through the system, spatial analysis will quickly make sense of it and so make it easier to use. In this way complex issues can be effectively analysed and hidden patterns in data revealed. In the near future the ability to decide upon and act with confidence in dynamically changing situations will be more data-driven.

Mobile applications may eventually be developed by government entities to empower citizens  to make meaningful decisions in their everyday activities  and to lead better lives. With more real-time data at their fingertips citizens will be able to become more safe by looking at a map and figure out what areas have high crime rates. They can explore where are the locations of a school, public garden and other demographics to try to determine the best location to buy a new home.  

Will this improve our quality of life? Imagine a man suffering from a cardiac arrest in a public space. When an emergency call is made on 112, Mater Dei Hospital activates and deploys an ambulance to the scene. They have a target for the ambulance to reach the victim within the shortest time. But there are limitations. In a case of cardiac arrest, every minute counts. Every minute earlier where the victim receives treatment increases chances of survival exponentially.

In a perfect world, the ambulance would reach the victim within five minutes of the emergency call. What can be done if this is not the case? Other than deploying the ambulance, once the the emergency services receive the call, through a dedicated app, the officer will also ping out an alert to trained first aid volunteers  within  a 500m radius of the victim’s location. So before the ambulance arrives the chances of stabilising the victim are much higher.

The app can also indicate where the nearest automatic external defibrillators is should the volunteer require one. The more people subscribe the app and become trained voluteers, the more functions can be extended  to alert volunteers to cases of minor fires, where such fires can be quickly put out by nearby volunteers easily.

Using geospatial data and technology, one can see how the quality of life and society can be improved not only at a public administrative level but also empowering us to make decisions and take action on the ground.

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