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County Solutions and Innovation Blog​​
November 05
Meet Alyssum Pohl, NOAA Digital Coast Fellow

Written by Alyssum Pohl​, NOAA Digital Coast Fellow.
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Hello!  I’ve posted a couple blog posts so far, two for NACo (here and here) and one for the National States Geographic Information Council (here), and I’ve had my office at NACo for a year,  but there are still plenty of folks who haven’t met me, or aren’t quite sure what it is that I do.  I’ll start by saying that I began my two-year fellowship in October of 2012, so I’m at my half-way mark.  Here’s my 30 second elevator speech:

“I am a NOAA Digital Coast Fellow, working with the National Association of Counties and the National States Geographic Information Council in Washington DC.  I help state and local coastal decision makers better utilize geospatial data to help improve the resilience of their coastal communities.”  

It’s a mouthful, I know.  Allow me to break it down for you, piece by piece.

“I am a NOAA Digital Coast Fellow” 

The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is a federal agency under the US. Department of Commerce, which houses the National Ocean Service (NOS), among others.  NOS is home to eight line offices including the Coastal Services Center (CSC) (soon to be seven line offices, when CSC and OCRM merge).  The Coast Services Center links people, information, and technology.  One of the ways they do this is through their Digital Coast website, which hosts data, tools, trainings, and stories about how other people have used Digital Coast. Another way is by supporting several Fellowships each year.  The Coastal and Coral Reef Management Fellowships have been around for a while, but this is the first time that Digital Coast Fellowships have been offered, as a splinter of the Coastal Management Fellowships.

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“working with the National Association of Counties and the National States Geographic Information Council”

Digital Coast is an interesting project because it is not just a website, but also boasts a Digital Coast Partnership which represents the website’s diverse user groups and includes the American Planning Association (APA), Association of State Floodplain Managers (ASFPM), Coastal States Organization (CSO), National Association of Counties (NACo) , National States Geographic Information Council (NSGIC),  The Nature Conservancy (TNC), Urban Land Institute (ULI), National Estuarine Research Reserve Association (NERRA) and NOAA.  We Digital Coast Fellows (there are three of us) differ from the Coastal Zone Management Fellows (there are ~12 of them) in that we work with two of the Digital Coast Partner organizations rather than a state coastal zone management program, and focus on advancing the goals of the Digital Coast.  I work in collaboration with both NACo and NSGIC.

in Washington DC.”

People often think that because my job title has “NOAA” in it, and because I’m in the DC area, I probably work at the NOAA headquarters up in Silver Springs VA, where more than 80% of all NOAA employees work.  Actually, though, the headquarters for the Coastal Services Center is down in Charleston , SC, so most of the NOAA folks that I do have regular interactions with live in a different state!  My office is at NACo, near Union Station in Washington, DC, “on the Hill”.  Because NSGIC’s members are state GIOs (Geographic Information Officers or equivalent), there is not really a headquarters location for the organization—we do most of our work together over the internet or on the phone.  Coming in to NACo daily means that I get to really understand how NACo functions.  I have learned a lot about the importance of county government!  

“I help state and local coastal decision makers better utilize geospatial data to help improve the resilience of their coastal communities.” 

I am here to help you!  If your project or question is coastal or ocean-related, I can help!  Here are some of the projects that I work on:

  • Peer-to-peer coastal county network.  My hopes are that this network will be utilized for disseminating information, sharing problems, solutions, and innovations across the country in a manner that is most beneficial to county staff and elected officials.  (If you have ideas, or would like to comment on this, please let me know!!  

  • Success Stories.  Highlighting the excellent GIS work that counties and states are doing can be really inspiring and motivating to other locales to join in and do similar work.  Deserve a pat on the back, or know someone who does? Contact me, I’ll write your story up and give you a virtual “gold star”!

  • Espousing Digital Coast.  As often as it may be relevant, I talk to people about data availability, tools that may be useful, and training opportunities, and connections to other like-minded, or helpful people.  I’d be happy to give you a personal tour of Digital Coast if you like!

  • Attend the Senate GIS Working Group meetings.  Senator Risch, of Idaho, recognizes the importance of maps in government and hosts a monthly meeting for folks on the hill.  Check out the awesome Map Gallery on his website (including Idaho’s active wildfires, diabetes, high school graduation rates, etc)!  I go to these meetings to offer help, when I can, to any congressional staff in accessing appropriate data, tools, and so on.

  • I have several small projects going on as well.

Okay, but WHO ARE YOU?

Ha ha, good question.  I graduated with an undergraduate degree in biology from the University of Kentucky, attended Tufts University Veterinary Medical School for 4 years, and got my Master’s degree in International Environmental Policy from the Monterey Institute of International Studies, where I focused on marine conservation issues, particularly sustainable seafood and aquaculture.  I worked at the World Wildlife Fund as an intern a few summers ago, here in DC, which is how I knew I’d enjoy coming back to this area.  I worked at Seafood Watch at the Monterey Bay Aquarium while I was in grad school.  Because my background is ecology and marine conservation heavy, I am really enjoying learning so much more about the human aspects of coastal resiliency such as emergency preparedness, hazard mitigation, land use, and planning.  Outside my fellowship, I enjoy teaching and performing (dance and contortion).  

Whew, that was long! But I hope you understand now my role here at NACo.  Please don’t hesitate to call on me if I can be of service!

Alyssum Pohl, 202-661-8834.


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