Using Global Mapper to Help Inform Public Policy: Customer Use Case

Education and Research

Joel Haugen, a retired federal government contractor in Scappoose, Oregon, has created several maps using Global Mapper to communicate important information about residential construction in flood zones to his local community.

Global Mapper

Communicating layers of detailed information in a persuasive and easily digestible format. 

Global Mapper was used to map flood zones, compare potential housing sites, and prevent the construction of homes in a hazardous area.


GIS has been a staple of city planning since it became publicly accessible. A powerful tool for detailed map creation, it can be used to measure and communicate important planning variables such as vegetation encroachment on infrastructure, predict flood zones, road planning terrain management, and more. Spatial data is vital in planning city structure, and map-making is a traditional way of communicating these complex ideas in an easily digestible format for shaping opinions and policies.

 “Global Mapper is an invaluable tool to help guide this upcoming legal decision.”

After his retirement in 2011, Joel Haugen, who has been a long-time user of Global Mapper since version 2.0, found himself spending more time volunteering in his community. He quickly realized that with his knowledge of cartography and GIS, he could help his community members and lawmakers better understand the risks associated with local home constructions in hazardous areas through informative maps. 

Joel has created a set of maps for the purpose of educating local lawmakers on how flood zones are delineated, and how an approved floodplain development will put future new homeowners at risk.


One Map to Communicate Multiple Ideas  

In Oregon, a development company is requesting permission from a city to construct a new neighborhood in a previously undeveloped area. These new houses would exist 1 foot above the 100-year flood zone and well within the 500-year flood zone, as outlined in FEMA maps. Their plan for mitigating the flood zone includes building a 1-foot berm, which doesn’t address the 500-year flood maps, leaving the homes at risk in those situations. As flooding becomes more common due to climate change, respect for flood maps and mitigation is critical. It’s up to the strength of a map to communicate all the details of this plan and ensure a flood-resilient decision is made for the future owners of these homes.

A FEMA flood map overlays an image layer showing whih areas of the image would flood in an event.
FEMA flood zones overlaid against existing and current residences.

Through the use of multiple data layers, this map communicates the boundaries of the existing flood zone as compared to the existing infrastructure and the planned construction. FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) provides public flood maps that can be easily brought into Global Mapper, as shown above. By applying a basic transparency setting, policymakers can quickly asess underlying areas at risk of flooding. With climate change, floods are becoming more frequent and may exceed current flood boundaries (First Street Foundation). Removing the existing flood area through development can lead to the loss of homes here and in surrounding areas.

flood data is georeferenced in global mapper

As Global Mapper is compatible with over 380 different file types, it’s the perfect tool for combining data from multiple projects. Creating maps such as these in Global Mapper is a straightforward process. Joel’s workflow involved downloading FEMA’s current Q3 Flood Zone data, geo-rectifying the developer’s floodplain housing plan, and projected flood delineations from the First Street Foundation. Flood map data supported by other sources, such as First Street helps to strengthen the case


These and other maps created by Joel Haugen have been included as part of the evidence in both a community public hearing and subsequent appeal to Oregon’s Land Use Board of Appeals. While the Board of Appeals remanded the matter back to the City, the decision was too narrow to allow for a new public hearing and new evidence.

Hence, an appeal to Oregon’s Court of Appeals where Global Mapper will once again be used to reflect the jeopardy to the community from the approved floodplain development. In these cases, Global Mapper is used to compare FEMA floodplains among other communities in the same geographic area (Willamette Valley) to help demonstrate the inadvisability of building new homes in existing floodplains.


If successful in the upcoming Oregon Court of Appeals case, a 2nd and more thorough public hearing will allow local decision-makers a 2nd opportunity to decide the community’s floodplain future, thanks, at least in part, to the spatial depiction features available in Global Mapper and the skills of an active community member concerned about feature generations of Oregon residents.


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