The Columbia Regional Geospatial Service Center has a prominent location on the Nacogdoches square. Yet few really know or understand what goes on inside. Vice president of operations, P.R. Blackwell slides a card through a door lock. "We are about to enter our cold room. This is where we keep all our equipment. It's also the secure area in the building." What's guarded is state of the art equipment and what it stores. "Part of what you're seeing is a migration of technology from where we started 10 years ago and to where we are today," said Blackwell.
The highly technically minded man uses a lot of computer technology to accurately explain how tons of information is stored and transmitted to other parts of the state, and hopefully someday across the nation. The processors and servers store and transmit details of roads, electrical grids, pipelines and water resources. There's geographic data for the entire state and parts of northern Mexico. The links with University of Texas at El Paso and soon Texas Tech bring new issues to the program. Director, Dr. James Kroll said, "We have a goal of having 6 or 7 total centers distributed as a network, a web so to speak around the state. My larger dream is to expand it across the nation." UTEP specializes in engineering master transportation plants. Texas Tech is known for its agriculture planning. All the centers will duplicate each other's data so if any one center is lost, the other will have the information backed.
When disaster hits the Columbia Center staff can provide immediate geospatial mapping assistance, just like they did in 2003 following the space shuttle Columbia tragedy. But day to day natural resource planning and economic development are conducted. Graduate student Charles Ashton maps the streets of his hometown of Lufkin. "We were able to figure out what parts of Lufkin need to be fixed first given the traffic," explained Ashton. Another graduate student works on her thesis due in December. She is tracking sexually transmitted diseases by using geospatial science.
The Columbia Center is anxious to introduce the science in many fields. Vice president of education, Dr. Darrel McDonald explained, "We're not here to tell people how to do their job.what we are doing is to listen to what they need, help them with our geospatial tools to provide them products so they can do their job maybe better."