Sat | Feb 23, 2019

RJRGLEANER Honour Awards - For Science and Technology: Mona Geoinformatics Institute

Published:Thursday | January 17, 2019 | 12:00 AMNickoy Wilson/Gleaner Writer
Dr Ava M Maxam (right), deputy director, Mona Geoinformatics Institute points out A 3D model of a section of New Kingston to members of the Mona Geoinformatics Institute from left: Dr Parris Lyew-Ayee, Luke Buchanan, Glen Henry and Lisa-Gaye Greene.
Dr Parris Lyew-Ayee Jr, director of Mona Geoinformatics Institute, University of the West Indies, Mona.
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Located on the campus of The University of the West Indies, Mona, St Andrew, this organisation is the brainchild behind Jamaica's global positioning system.

It has also identified crash hotspots and offered a wide range of advanced geographic information science solutions.

But for director of Mona Geoinformatics Institute (MGI), Dr Parris Lyew-Ayee, it came as a surprise when he found out that his organisation is the recipient of this year's RJRGleaner Honour Award in the category of Science and Technology.

"It was very unexpected because we don't operate for recognition, we don't operate for awards. But this being our 15th year, it has a special meaning to me personally, being here since the beginning. The sense that people are noticing what we are doing is an important recognition personally," said Dr Lyew-Ayee, echoing the sentiments of the other staff members that The Gleaner interacted with.

Formally established in 2004, MGI dubs itself as an 'action tank', and according to Dr Lyew-Ayee, MGI is in the business of knowing where anything is and applying that knowledge on a developmental and economic basis.

He told The Gleaner that the institute is able to spur action through three areas, the first being the Environmental and Hazards Division.

 

Specific profile

 

"We all hear statistics about earthquakes, hurricanes, landslides and floods, but these things affect different areas differently. So what happens in St Thomas may not necessarily happen in Westmoreland, and we are able to profile each area on its own merit," Dr Lyew-Ayee said.

The director said they have collected extensive data on weather phenomena that have occurred in Jamaica.

"We've mapped all the landslides and floods ever reported in Jamaica, we've been tracking every hurricane, every tropical wave, every tropical depression, and not only the event, but what would happen, what needs to be done to prevent it from having an impact, and so on," said Dr Lyew-Ayee, who also shared that the institute is active in climate change modelling and the effects of plants on the environment.

MGI also has a human and social division, which takes a more analytical look at issues such as crime.

"But this isn't just crime in sociological research, criminological research. We are looking at building support systems for operations ... we are talking about police, the armed forces, the military to help them process their intelligence, assist in their deployment, understanding and analysing the problem in a different way," the director explained.

This division also looks at road safety and tracking road crashes, which is provided to the public in real time through a designated website.

"We've been able to track where these events are happening. We are seeing the reality. It's not as simple as we want it to seem or sound. It's more than speeding minibuses or taxis. We are seeing a pattern of motorcycle crashes. We are seeing a pattern of pedestrian fatalities. We are seeing a pattern of bicycle fatalities. These are the vulnerable people in our society," Dr Lyew-Ayee highlighted.

He added: "You do have the opportunity to analyse a situation much deeper than statistics. You can correlate it with the road, whether it is curved or not, steep or not, six lanes or not. You are able to look at the vehicle type, time of day - all of these things we are able to analyse."

This kind of activity has led to the MGI partnering with the National Road Safety Unit in identifying crash hotspots across the length and breadth of the island.

 

Not randomly placed

 

"You have seen those billboards across Jamaica, some big, some small - 'Caution! Crash Hotspot'. Those signs are not randomly located and those signs are not death spots. But those are areas where we measure that there is a high probability of a crash ... It's not just like cars, it's road users. But we are able to identify hotspots across Jamaica and have those signs put up," Dr Lyew-Ayee said.

MGI also had a hand in the recent ban on single-use plastics bags, straws and styrofoam, with Dr Lyew-Ayee chairing a multi-stakeholder working group. The ban came into effect on January 1.

"What we have done was be able to apply science to this thing, to look at the nature of this problem not in abstract or in statistics, but to look at the pattern of garbage across Jamaica from different sources. So you have the beach clean-up that happens every September, but there are other different groups that have done their own activity and we've compiled all that information together and we have seen the pattern. Where are plastic bags dominating, where are plastic bottles dominating? What is the condition of a particular stretch of coastline vis-‡-vis another stretch of coastline in Jamaica," he said.

They were also integral in defining the boundaries of the Cockpit Country, which was declared as a protected area in 2017.

Through its final arm, the Software Development Division, MGI creates software products.

"So we've developed a lot of original software products, one of which is the GK general online insurance platform, so we built that entire platform. We've developed many different tools that are used in the commercial space," Dr Lyew-Ayee said.