Up-to-date geographic data is one of the most critical assets an emergency responder can carry with them into the field. David Runneals, a senior GIS student at Northwest Missouri State University (NMSU), has a budding career aggregating and disseminating actionable data that helps response teams and local residents manage hazardous conditions, mitigate damage, and navigate safely.
“GIS will have a major impact in emergency management,” Runneals said. “It will not only help citizens understand what is being done to respond to events, but also help decision-makers visualize essential elements of information—whether that be crowdsourced information like Waze or authoritative information from trusted partner agencies.”
Runneals is the first recipient of USGIF’s new RGi Scholarship for Geospatial and Engineering, offered in partnership with Reinventing Geospatial Inc. (RGi). The scholarship awards $10,000 to an undergraduate student committed to becoming competitive and constructive in the geospatial and engineering disciplines.
While studying GIS with a focus in emergency and disaster management, Runneals has interned for more than three years as an intern with the Iowa Department of Transportation. There, he’s developed web applications, published map data, and managed servers for the department’s Office of Bridges and Structures, Office of Traffic Operations, and Bureau of Investigation and Identity Protection. Open data is particularly important to his work.
“Being able to make authoritative data accessible to the public increases transparency,” Runneals said. “[We released] an application where the public can see where snowplows are in real time and view images. [Iowa is] the only state I know of that pushes out a daily snapshot of our bridge inventory database publicly. One tool I think is really cool and innovative is an API app that allows TV stations to pull our geospatial data into their on-air weather software to display things like plow locations or road conditions.”
If first responders rely on this sort of compounded geospatial data to maneuver safely, it follows that broadcasting the same data to the public would help direct traffic, reduce accidents, and facilitate maintenance.
Runneals discovered his affinity for mapping in eighth grade. He’d always been fascinated by computers and digital technology but discovered the power of geospatial data after attending a GIS Day event hosted by the Southeast Iowa 4-H Technology Team. During the day’s geocaching expedition, the team leader showed Runneals a cemetery mapping initiative.
“I kind of got hooked,” he said of the experience.
In high school, a project creating a risk management plan for the Story County Fair sparked Runneals’ passion for emergency preparedness and inspired the focus of his collegiate education. He narrowed his interests through volunteer positions, internships, and other GIS work, and learned how to operate systems such as ArcGIS, Feature Manipulation Engine, GeoMedia, and Oracle Spatial.
Runneals has participated in humanitarian relief efforts including bridge infrastructure analysis in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria, flood response preparedness in Colorado, and traffic incident mapping in Iowa, Minnesota, and Nebraska. Last month, he concluded a summer GIS internship with Esri’s Health and Public Safety Team in California. Runneals also volunteers as a mentor every spring for the FIRST Robotics Competition, which challenges high school students to build and program game-playing robots.
Runneals will earn his bachelor’s degree from NMSU in May 2019. His aspirations for work after graduation are simple: “I want a job I’m passionate about that makes an impact in the world.”