Dr. Robin D. Smith Joins ESRI’s Environmental Management Team

Experienced Leader to Grow GIS for a Sustainable Planet

October 14, 2008, Redlands, California—The many people who use geographic information system (GIS) technology to better understand and manage the environment have a new resource in ESRI’s environmental industry manager Dr. Robin D. Smith. GIS users will benefit from his 25 years of experience conducting and managing more than 60 environmental investigations and modeling projects and subsequent ecological and human health risk assessments for corrective actions both nationally and internationally.

Dr. Robin Smith

Smith holds a Ph.D. in toxicology and a bachelor of science degree in evolutionary ecology. Throughout his career, he has worked with representatives from industry, national and local governments, and nongovernmental organizations, providing him with useful experiences for his new position at ESRI. Having a solid grasp on environmental management theory and concepts, he has been a professor at the graduate level in environmental risk analysis. In addition, he has real-world practice in applying his capabilities as a state regulator working in the areas of air quality and pesticide regulation. Smith is a member of the Air and Waste Management Association and a full member of the Society of Toxicology.

“We face increasingly complex environmental issues that demand we use the best technologies available to understand, communicate, and address these challenging situations,” notes Smith. “GIS plays a pivotal role in our ability to analyze, manage, and preserve and sustain our environment. GIS is powerful because of its ability to rapidly bring together groups, organizations, and individuals in a way that facilitates environmental decision making on a shared or common problem. My goal is to bring this technology to all levels of society, industry, and government to support the stewardship of our environment.”

ESRI president Jack Dangermond says, “We are highly committed to the efforts of GIS users to understand environmental issues and develop strategies for managing a sustainable planet. Bringing Dr. Smith to the ESRI team will aid in the focus and growth of this critical goal.”

Some of ESRI’s earliest software users were environmental scientists and managers who used GIS to improve their understanding of environmental quality issues for regulatory compliance purposes. Since that time, environmental science GIS applications have continued to grow and expand into research and decision support tools for evaluating and managing issues. Smith’s work has focused on identifying and bringing together disparate groups of stakeholders in collaborative processes to reach agreements on solutions to public health and environmental concerns. This expertise serves ESRI and the environmental management community well in continuing ESRI’s objectives of building software that responds to users’ needs.

Welcome to ESRI, Robin.  It’s a pleasure to work with you.

Integrating GIS and Modeling: A Conversation with Michael Fene’, Part I

I’ve had the pleasure to be associated with many wonderful people over the last 20+ years, and certainly towards the top of my list would be my good friend and colleague Michael Fene’.

Michael and I met in the mid-1980s at Engineering-Science, Inc. (a subsidiary of the Parsons Corporation).  Working on various environmental consulting projects, we both naturally gravitated towards a gigantic workstation and were then tasked to figure out this thing called GIS. 

Michael and I recently had a conversation where we reminisced about the old days, how we got involved in the integration of GIS with modeling software, and eventually both ended up at ESRI. 


Well, you know that I was told at one point that you and I were pioneers in the integration of GIS and modeling, starting with Stamina.  And I can’t remember who told me that…maybe you.

Funny, I remember hearing that story from you.  Maybe we’re legends in our own minds! 

Anyway, Stamina (the FHWA highway noise model) and Optima (related program for optimal modeling of highway noise barriers) was pretty powerful, but very awkward.  The best thing we ever did was to figure out how to use GIS in the workflow.  For example, before GIS became part of our toolkit, I remember laying out rolls of tracing paper, 50+ feet long, on top of blueprints of the proposed Phoenix Outer Loop freeway project, and manually generating thousands of coordinates for modeling the highway and surrounding receptors.  When we started to use GIS to manage the data and automatically generate the Stamina input files, it was like inventing the wheel or something.

I think the Stamina work flow that we elaborated is still a perfect example of utilization of GIS on the input and output side of the workflow – that is not too abstract.  The workflows that you, Carrie Badget West, and I elaborated at Engineering-Science included leveraging primitive vector, raster, image processing, and database functionalities of GIS to get answers that frankly were impossible to obtain without GIS or very expensive. 

I remember the output from Stamina being predicted noise levels at thousands of receptor points, and us having to put the data into a mainframe-based contouring package (so cleverly titled CONTOUR), and then importing the contours into the GIS so we could integrate with the rest of the data. 

You and I then had the opportunity to work with ESRI as an ancillary contractor to Parsons as we actioned the environment impact studies for the LA City Master Plan. 

At some point we worked on the project to model air polution emited by vegetation in the state of California, which was all based on Ronald Reagan’s infamous quote about how redwood trees generated more polution than cars or something.

Then you left Parsons and came to ESRI.

And while I worked at ESRI for about 18 years, spreading the word about GIS, you travelled the world, continuing to explore interesting applications of GIS and modeling.  

In my career beyond Engineering-Science, I used PC ARC/INFO to support a Carrying Capacity Analysis (creating that workflow from scratch) for the State of Hawaii.  This was the first analytical application of GIS in the State; everyone else at that time was simply using GIS to collect data. 

But travelling the world wasn’t enough for you, was it?  You had to go even further…

I was a member of the Galileo Mission to Jupiter NIMS (Near Infrared Mapping Spectrometer) Team, and to my knowledge we were the first to use GIS technology as a geospatial integration platform for data being transmitted from the “bird” back to earth.  I helped create the first “fused” dataset for analysis and visualization of observations captured from multiple sensor observations (over multiple orbits) of Europa and Callisto (two of many moons of Jupiter).

Then you became involved in hazard modeling, didn’t you?

Right, then I extended the same concepts to hazard modeling for natural phenomena by putting several ArcInfo licenses on a supercomputer to produce a Pacific Rim Wide Environment State Common Operating Picture for the Hawaii State Emergency Operations Center and Spawar.  This system was entitled “Pacific Basin Disaster Threat Map”…we called it “Skippy” for short.

(You can read Part II of my conversation with Michael Fene’ here.)

GIS and Science e-book

ESRI has published a series of e-books reprinting user stories collected from ArcNews, ArcUser, and other sources and focused on a specific industry or other topic.  The new GIS and Science e-book, published just last month, leads off with an introduction by Dr. David Maguire, ESRI’s chief scientist, followed by a number of user stories featuring various applications if GIS in science.

GIS and Science e-book

You can download the full GIS and Science e-book here.