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Mapping Your Municipality: Get Lasting Leverage of GIS Data

How to make GIS (geographic information systems) implementations sustainable using a “Project Delivery Model”.

Over the past year, LaBella’s Data Intelligence Group (DIG) has assisted our clients in developing innovative technology and improving the utilization of their data. One of our specialties is helping our municipal sector clients with GIS. As we know, there are many applications of GIS in a municipal setting. Just a few examples of these uses are:

Field Data Collection:
GIS, in conjunction with mobile technology, can be used to easily capture assets in the field. This can be done using high accuracy GPS/GNSS receivers, for utility data such as storm sewers, but it could also be photographs of code violations, notable trees, or other landmarks – just about anything of interest in the community that is spatial! (Hint: just about everything in our world has a geographic or spatial component!)

Environmental Assessments:
Use GIS to assess the environmental health of your municipality. There are many datasets available to the public that map factors such as wetlands, floodplains, water bodies, sensitive habitats, and more. This data can be combined with your own data (field or desktop created) to produce a picture of your community’s environmental status.

Land-Use Management:
Use existing datasets such as National Land Cover data (NLCD), in combination with real-property data collected from assessors to derive a picture of land-use patterns in your municipality. You can also use this GIS data to develop “what-if” scenarios to model future land use and zoning changes.

Asset Management:
Being a spatial platform, GIS is ideal to map the location of your municipal assets, such as hydrants, manholes, light poles, sewer and water lines, etc. The attributes behind a GIS dataset also allow us to track more than just the location of the asset, but additional features such as year installed, condition, depreciation information, etc.. Software such as ArcGIS can be easily linked and integrated into other asset management tools, such as CityWorks for example, as well as financial and accounting software, provided each asset feature can be uniquely identified throughout the system databases.

Emergency Planning and Response:
This application for GIS is very timely, given the current COVID-19 global pandemic. GIS has been used globally to map and track COVID-19 cases. One such example is the Esri ArcGIS Online COVID-19 dashboard (the Johns Hopkins map so many of us have seen). These tools are being used on a local level as well. Counties across the United States have taken advantage of these “out of the box” dashboard tools to map cases in their own community. In addition, GIS is also being used to track resources and emergency responses. Examples include tracking hospital capacity, mapping closed facilities, locations of testing centers, and more. Emergency response GIS is not limited to pandemics, but is also often used in response to natural disasters. Some examples of how GIS is used in this case include mapping power outage areas, road closures, supply distribution centers, etc. In one specific example, in 2012, after Hurricane Sandy, communities in NY & NJ very effectively used a combination of GIS field data collection apps and social media to quickly catalog locations of damage (i.e. tweeting photos of damage, with the phones location services turned on)

All of these applications for GIS require resources. First and foremost on this list of requirements are software, followed by data, and, for online solutions, hosting capacity. While all of the above uses for GIS can be very beneficial to a municipality, it can be difficult to get started, Many AEC Firms (Architecture, Engineering, and Construction) will share data with municipal clients during a project using its own ArcGIS Online infrastructure. But where does that go after the project is complete? In this model, it’s difficult to build a sustainable GIS. Online sites may get shut down once the specific task order is complete, without the municipality having its own online capabilities.

To address these situations and provide a framework for better building these projects into long lasting, sustainable GIS implementations, Esri’s AEC team has introduced the “Project Delivery Model”. This approach allows a firm to work with their client to produce online content during an active project, but then provides the option for the municipality to continue to use the resource after the project ends by acquiring the ArcGIS Online accounts and credits needed to continue updating the map.

The benefits of working with this approach are several:
Project management. We can work with you more efficiently throughout the project life cycle by providing an online mapping tool to provide updates, and even collaboratively manage and edit data.

Providing a data source of record. This online spatial data repository provides a single location for project data that can easy be seen and managed by both the vendor and the client. This improves efficiency by reducing the need to continually transfer files and improves accuracy by reducing the risk of looking at out-of-date data.

Scalability. ArcGIS Online and the AEC Project Delivery Model are a great way to build upon the work of a single mapping project. Esri’s ArcGIS Online platform works very well for small to modestly sized implementations, but also can be scaled to larger solutions by using their vast collection of Online Apps, ArcGIS Enterprise, etc.
Ownership. The AEC Project Delivery model allows the municipality to acquire ownership of the creator license, and credits needed to continue with the online mapping site. This empowers the municipality to continue to move forward, even when there may not be budget to continue to engage outside assistance.

If you’re interested in learning more about using this new Esri Project Delivery approach to build/grow your GIS presence, contact us today!

Did you know? The Origins of GIS are Rooted in Public Health

With most of the world focused on COVID-19, we’re seeing GIS tools being used to measure and analyze this pandemic. From tracking cases, supplies, and the extent that people are staying home, GIS tools are essential to our modern response. What many don’t realize is that one of the first applications of GIS was also related to a public health crisis.

In the mid 19th century cholera outbreaks were terrifying, deadly, and not well understood. The prevailing scientific theory at the time was that “miasma”, or “bad air” caused the spread. There was no established science about germs, microscopic particles, or water-borne disease.

Dr. John Snow, an English physician, would have a scientific breakthrough when he turned to a map of London to analyze an outbreak impacting London’s Soho neighborhood in August 1854. When he did, he noticed that most of the deaths were clustered around a water pump on Broad Street. To further pinpoint the Broad Street well (as opposed to the air around the well), he studied a prominent brewery in close proximity to the well. This brewery had its own source of water. Like many people would, its employees were choosing beer over water for their choice of beverage! Snow found no cholera cases among brewery staff, and his theory was solidified. Snow presented this information to the City, and convinced them to close the Broad Street well. The outbreak subsided soon afterwards. Beyond stopping the Soho outbreak, Snow’s spatial analysis also contributed to the emerging field of epidemiology, and encourage a spatial focus on tracking the spread of disease.