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Susan Smith
Susan Smith
Susan Smith has worked as an editor and writer in the technology industry for over 16 years. As an editor she has been responsible for the launch of a number of technology trade publications, both in print and online. Currently, Susan is the Editor of GISCafe and AECCafe, as well as those sites’ … More »

Counting Every Person Living in the U.S. in the Right Place with the 2020 Census Using GIS

August 8th, 2019 by Susan Smith

Dr. Ron S. Jarmin and other spokespeople from the U.S. Census Bureau spoke at the Esri User Conference 2019 Plenary Session about the enormous responsibility of the U.S. Census Bureau to administer the constitutionally mandated count of the U.S. population, a task that is done every ten years since 1790.

“Decennial census is a fundamental part of our democracy,” said Dr. Jarmin. “It determines apportionment of seats in congress allocates nearly $9 billion in federal funding to communities each year.

The important task will start in January 2020, and people will receive letters in the mail inviting them to go online and complete the census. “Our goal is to count every person living in the U.S. in April and count them only once and in the right place, so geography is a central component,” said Dr. Jarmin. “It’s a big job. We’ll be printing 1.5 billion questionnaires, letters and postcards, and hire nearly 400,000 people to knock on doors of those who haven’t responded.”

The April 1, 2020 census count will begin months earlier in Alaska’s Toksook Bay, a rural village on the Bering Sea that can only be reached by dog sled, snow machine or bush plane when the ground is still frozen.

The census count begins in Alaska because of the challenge of counting people who live in hard-to-reach villages in the northernmost parts of the United States. This has been a challenge for the Census Bureau for every decade since 1870. Large portions of Alaska are still not connected by roads and have spotty mail service, let alone have internet service.

This process of counting every person in the United States is intricate and comprehensive. Through the use of GIS workflows in both operations and the field, the U.S. Census Bureau is creating efficiencies to establish where to count. They are also using GIS to create applications that motivate people to respond, ensuring a more accurate count of the population in all communities of our nation.

“We’ve deployed several key innovation that are making it easier for people to participate,” said Dr. Jarmin. “Geography is key to innovation, and we have a team of dedicated smart geographers, to develop, deploy and test in Providence, Rhode Island.

Deirdre Bishop, head of the U.S. Census geography division, recounted the history of the census. The first census was conducted on horseback 1790 by federal marshal.  “We’ve come a long way in 230 years, and each time we conduct a census we can access and modernize our tools.”

Highlights of the U.S. Census’ geographic history:

  • 1940-1960 – 700 cartographers and draftsmen hand drew paper maps of enumeration districts, then census takers physically canvassed each district to count the people.
  • By 1970 the GIS industry was forming and the U.S. Census Bureau created an urban database, where digital maps enabled mail delivery with census questionnaires in metropolitan areas.
  • 1990 – Development of TIGER (Topologically integrated geographic encoding and referencing database) using USGS maps with input from tribal, state and local governments, the Census created the first seamless topologically integrated map of the nation.

TIGER soon became a “national racehorse” for the private, national and government data.

Bishop said, “We head into 2020 with the goal to count everyone once and in the right place, and to ensure we get it right, we incorporate GIS.”

According to John Pollicino, U.S. Census Bureau, throughout the decade the U.S. Census Bureau have partnered with state, local and tribal governments to ensure a complete accurate database throughout the whole nation – including every state, country, city, track, block, and address.

“We are able to get authoritative data we needed to stay current with growth, including associative addresses represented with parcel boundaries,” said Pollicino. “Our partnerships enable us to validate 106 million addresses and millions of miles of roads. This has also allowed us to re-engineer the address canvassing operation, the method we use to update and validate our address list. Using this innovation, BARCA (the block assessment research and classification application), we’re able to conduct address canvassing from our desk, as opposed to 100 percent in the field. Starting in 2015 and concluding a few months ago, we conducted a digital interactive review of every block in the nation, many multiple times to stay current. in BARCA a technician receives a block and assess it, comparing it to older imagery. If we don’t have the roads and addresses, by pinning this block to growth, missing addresses, etc., a canvasser will visit and give us all the data we need. With this application we have cut our field work load by two thirds.”

The U.S. Census Bureau database is used to follow up to visit households that don’t self-respond, according to Anika Adams-Reefer, U.S. Census Bureau. They will use a mobile device to navigate to the non-responders’ households. And to ask census questions, their entire workflow has now been enabled. 350,000 census takers will take to the streets with iPhone 8s. Each device will be  pre-imaged with Esri’s FieldType Enumeration application that the Census developed on top of ArcGIS Runtime. Census takers receive their case assignments and provide their work availability for the week. Behind the scenes the Census Route Optimizer leverages data from industry leaders combined with census specific criteria and calculates an optimized case assignment list. The U.S. Census developed this optimization tool to formulate the ideal order of cases specific to the census taker, using criteria such as where the census taker lives and what language they speak, and what time is best to visit the non-responder in addition to taking into account the road network. The census taker then goes to the map showing his/her cases’ location in relation to his current location and the map is navigation-enabled. In reviewing his/her cases if he sees a pin with a number in it, it represents a multi-unit structure such as an apartment building. If he happens to be in an area with poor or no cell coverage, that’s not a problem because the vector tile match resides on the device. The census taker can knock on the door and begin the interview.

The app is aware of her current location, and will ensure census takers are knocking at the right door. Cases will sync back to the server and in an area without service, they will sync back when they have connectivity, and back into the optimizer at night. The census taker will receive the next day’s assignment, and the process repeats itself daily.

The benefits of the app:

  • Faster data collection and submission
  • Reduced use of paper
  • Reducing number for census takers by 1/3
  • Reducing number of local census officer by 50%

“We need to limit non responding visits because it’s the most costly option of the census,” said Adams-Reefer. “We’re offering three response mechanisms: internet, phone, and paper. You can respond any time and anywhere, and we also have tools to motivate people to respond.”

Adams-Reefer spoke about the response outreach area mapper or ROAM that the Bureau built to figure out where and how to focus their own 2020 outreach efforts. “It became clear that ROAM can mobilize tribal, state and local governments to do the same. Together we’re working to ensure a complete and accurate count for the places we all call home.”

Adams-Reefer said that part of the census collection includes learning about the people in the households that are not responding, in order to develop the right outreach strategy.

In Denver, Colorado, for example, government, community and business leaders have come together to develop a complete count committee. Members of  this type of committee use their own voices to engage, communicate and educate within the local community. ROAM is simply reinforcing what they already know or revealing new information. They are revealing historically hard-to-count groups such as households with young children.

“If we look for census tracts where more than 20% of population is under the age of 5, we find where 38% of households are likely not to self-respond,” said Adams-Reefer. “What can the Denver committee do? They can add their own open data to the map and choose a location to hold an education census workshop. It looks like Fairview Elementary School would be the best place to remind people that everyone living in their household needs to be included in their response. ROAM now provides access to summary information about neighborhoods. Each audience segment is accessible right from the map. It tells us who is there and how they might respond. With ROAM we’re able to make quick, responsible data-driven decisions to help people respond. You can access ROME and its authoritative web mapping services

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Categories: analytics, asset management, Big Data, developers, election maps, Esri, geospatial, GIS, handhelds, location based sensor fusion, location based services, location intelligence, mapping, mobile, mobile mapping, photogrammetry, retail, satellite imagery, situational intelligence, transportation, U.S. Census

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