Sunday, April 5, 2009

It's Census Time!

I was out cutting the grass this morning. It was my first run at the lawn this year. The grass was thick. While I was working on the front lawn, I noticed a car driving slowly around the neighborhood, stopping in front of each house for a minute or so while the driver entered data on a small handheld computer.

He noticed my watching him and so stopped, stepped out, and let me know he is with the Census Bureau. I was not surprised; it was what I thought he was doing. I explained and we had a nice short chat.

As one of my responsibilities as a Delaware state employee, I serve as the Governor's Liaison for the 2010 Census in Delaware. I spent Friday of last week at the Regional Census Office in Philadelphia, discussing plans for the census with staff there and with state folks from Maryland, DC, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The Bureau let us know that address canvassing was about to start and that Delaware is one of the places where it is starting first in our region.

Address canvassing is a huge job and the first major step in the decennial census. Around 140,000 temporary census workers will fan out across the whole of the US and, block by block, check more than 145 million addresses. The census itself is a mail-based survey; everyone gets a census form in the mail (though there are non-mail ways to get information from those without addresses and such). If the Census Bureau does not have a comprehensive and accurate database of addresses, the census won't work.

So the folks out there now, checking addresses, are vital to the census, which is a key to our democracy. Be kind to them.

Meanwhile, when I broke for lunch and checked the web, I found a comment by Nancy Willing on Brian Shields' post about Google Streetview having recently added imagery of Seaford:
I think the Google Street lady stopped in front of my house yesterday. She pulled right up in front of my house, jumped out and (very energetically for her apparent age) and stood briefly in front of each house in the cul-de-sac, furiously writing something in a notebook before driving away.
While I did leave a correction comment (can't help myself), Nancy was not too far off the truth.

One of the important things that the address canvassers are doing is making sure that the addresses that the Census Bureau has are coded to the correct census blocks. and they are making sure that those blocks are defined by streets that are actually there (after all, things change). This information becomes part of the Bureau's Topologically Integrated Geographic Encoding and Referencing system -- known as TIGER.

TIGER is often referred to as a precursor to Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and the Bureau's TIGER data was for many years the base-map for most GIS applications in the US. Google Maps, and Google Earth, are the most recent outgrowth of GIS activities; they provide a common base map for access to a wide range of public geospatial data.

So the work of the address canvassers can be directly related to Google Maps, streetview and applications like that. In a way, that was "the Google Street lady" in front of Nancy's house.

More Disclosure: GIS and geospatial data are another part of my state job; I am State GIS Data Coordinator for Delaware.


Brian Shields said...

What does GIS stand for? I keep reading it in my head as a Google Image Search, but I know that's wrong.

Mike Mahaffie said...

A very good question. GIS stands for "Geographic Information System."

More detailed? GIS is a collection of geospatially-enabled data ("what" *plus* "where") combined with software tools with which to interact with that data in such a way as to create knowledge and information.

That's my definition, anyway.

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