Dan Root is a storyteller. But he’s not a book author or screenwriter – he’s a visual storyteller who uses maps of the San Juan Islands to blend the stories of the past, the present, and the future into exciting tools for residents. After five years of working for San Juan County, Root continues to find ways to give back to the community he serves.
What is GIS? What does it mean?
“GIS stands for ‘Geographic Information Systems.’ Basically, it’s everything found on the Polaris web map which includes parcel information, different layers of maps, and so much more. Working for GIS means that I get to make maps and tell stories.”
What is Polaris?
“Polaris is the mapping tool we use to integrate multiple County departments and provide information to the public. It is self-service and is most used for property searches. The maps get hundreds of hits a day and about 50,000 unique uses a month. It’s one of the County’s most trafficked pages.”
“One of the challenges with GIS is integrating with all the other departments. The information comes from Public Works, Community Development, the Assessor’s Office, and the Department of Health and Community Services, to name a few, and we go out and query their databases to join it with our data. Then we create these derived views so users can look at things spatially. For example, if we were to go to the Department of Health and Community Services and look up your septic record, GIS gives you the ability to search your parcel and find links to permits. It just makes it easier to find your info.”
How did you come to work in GIS?
“I graduated with a degree in computer science. Later I became a Y2K software engineer in the 90s. We were all furiously working in these rooms – preparing for whatever was to come. After nothing happened, when that engineering gig dried up, I started working for counties. I worked for Snohomish County in the 2000s and later for King County before moving to the San Juans.”
What brought you to the islands?
“We bought an empty lot on San Juan Island in April of 2016. It looked like a chia pet – all overgrown. We started coming up on the weekends to work on it, and after two years in it had power, water, and a trailer. It was just going to be a place to visit, until this job at the County opened up.”
What do you enjoy about your job?
“I like being a public servant. I think it’s really important to contribute to a community you live in. I enjoy being the steward of public resources and helping residents help themselves. GIS is such a visual tool – it puts things together spatially so you can see things like flood risk areas, erosion areas, historical property use, and more.”
What do you do for fun?
“I’m a pilot! We love living here and getting to fly because we have the freedom to come and go without relying on the ferries. We fly to the Skagit Valley area, the Olympic Peninsula, and around Washington.”
“I’m also the airport manager for Roche Harbor. Like a true islander, I don’t work just one job – I work three. I’ve been managing the airport for four years and I try to balance the peace and serenity of the islands for the people that live there, with the use that the airport receives. Just keeping that place running and safe takes time and energy – but we live there and use it, and I want to make sure it stays open and safe.”
What excites you about the future of GIS?
“Looking into the future, the web tools keep advancing so fast that what the public will get to see is going to be fun. There’s been such great advancements just in the last three years – for what you can do on smart devices that it makes GIS more accessible to the general public. You don’t have to know what GIS is to be successful.”
This profile is part of a series spotlighting San Juan County employees, the work they do, and the difference they make. Follow along each month to meet the staff responsible for making the Islands a wonderful place to live, work, and play.