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.)

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  1. Pingback: Integrating GIS and Modeling: A Conversation with Michael Fene’, Part II « GIS and Science Blog

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