News

GIS Technology for Your Community, Key Points; Feature Article, fall 2005 issue “The Resource” newsletter for clients and friends of Alliance Water Resources

Thinking about GIS for your community? Alliance takes a look at what this technology has meant for one of our own client-partners, including key points to consider for your own utility.

Citizens of Cape Girardeau, Mo. are benefiting from speedier service calls, improved fire protection, and a more effective, efficient water department. The City implemented a GIS (Geographic Information System) program 5 years ago, and has since seen dramatic improvements in services to citizens. Alliance Water Resources takes a closer look at the City of Cape Girardeau to give you the inside track on GIS; from implementation to operation and beyond.

Making the Leap
A 2003 National GIS Survey from Public Technology, Inc. found that 56% of communities with a population of less than 50,000 are using GIS. Communities use GIS to view “old” information in a completely new, more comprehensive format. Cape Girardeau GIS coordinator Rich Daume agrees, “Once people see what a difference it can make to have your system information at your fingertips, the choice is obvious.”

GIS set-up requires software, hardware and at least one handheld device. Cape Girardeau chose ESRI\'s ArcGIS software. ArcView is used to update and maintain GIS data and ArcPad is used in the field with a Trimble GeoXT as the handheld GPS. Existing computer equipment was stepped up to handle software system requirements. Training was provided by Daume, and it took about a month for both techs (who actually use the handheld device in the field) and users (who manipulate data in the computer system and produce maps and/or reports) to feel comfortable working within the system.

Project Scope
The City\'s overall goal for GIS was to track all boundary and utility information. Water department goals were simple: produce accurate maps of the entire water system, and imbed up-to-date data behind the map.

At first, the City digitized all existing paper maps. The City of Cape Girardeau had purchased the water system from AmerenUE in 1992. Maps were obtained from AmerenUE, and had been maintained by hand until this project. Water lines and water points, such as hydrants and valves were included on the maps. Digitization of approximately 3,000 points and 250 miles of line took 3 months to accomplish. After the City purchased a Trimble ProXRS GPS, a project was launched to record all 15,000 water meters. GPS of the rest of the system is now underway with the Water Department\'s Trimble GeoXT.

Alliance Water Resources local manager Kevin Priester strategized with the City to expanded software licensing; a significant step toward putting GIS in the hands of all employees. This in turn has helped the City discover new ways to make use of mapping information. The GIS system today is utilized far beyond its initial expectations. And departments throughout the city have taken notice of improved customer service and work flow efficiency when using the system.

A Day in the Life
On a typical day, Alliance Water Resources GIS technician Kim Hoxworth first determines her project for the day and the geographic area she will be working in. Hoxworth then “checks out” appropriate data from a desktop computer into the handheld unit using a cradle device to sync the data. She can choose to check out as much or as little information as she\'ll need for her day\'s work—from a simple plot of street names and fire hydrants to a full-scale map of every water component stored in the desktop. “It depends on the project. More data will mean slower handheld operation, so I take only what I need,” says Hoxworth.

For example, when mapping fire hydrants within a new development, Hoxworth stands with the handheld directly above the hydrant. The unit then communicates with as many as 8 satellites (3 are required, 5 or more is optimal) and places hydrant icon directly into the map within the handheld device with sub-meter accuracy. At the end of the day, Hoxworth re-syncs the handheld with the desktop. Now all the information she gathered is part of the map and data system shared by 46 users in 8 different City departments. She can also enter pop-up information, such as hydrant flow and maintenance records, right on to the map. Any user can then click on an individual fire hydrant icon to see its particular record.

Uses
Information gathering is only half of the equation. The real test comes in using the information to make good decisions for the City. Priester now uses the system every day, “It\'s just a part of my work flow.” He finds the maps particularly effective as a communication tool, both with other departments and his own work crew. “It\'s amazing what people absorb from a visual map that they just don\'t see when looking at a row of numbers,” Priester says. He particularly likes an advantage that any time-crunched city leader would cherish—shorter meetings—“Meetings that used to be an hour can take just 20 minutes now. It\'s easier to share information, and everyone leaves on the same page.”

Maps are used to increase work efficiency, improve planning, and speed up work flow. The advantage of a bird\'s-eye view means the user can plot a map of work for the day and direct a crew to navigate their route as efficiently as possible. Time zappers such as returning for needed tools or parts can be eliminated because previous maintenance and manufacturer information are printed along with the map. So parts that will actually fit can make it to the job in the first place. Citizens benefit from quicker service because so much of the city\'s infrastructure is underground; accurate mapping means a lot less digging for buried lines or snow-covered meters.

Before You Buy
Cost is a consideration in any major project for a city or district. According to an ESRI rep, “the cost question depends on what the user would like to achieve and what level of precision is necessary.” Options range from a single copy of the software and consumer-level GPS device (around $1500), to an advanced “bundle,” with more comprehensive software and a Pocket PC (starting at around $3000). Some grants are available to supplement costs through vendors or government programs.

It\'s also important to think about which crew members will operate the equipment, who should be an authorized user, and how to get them trained. And any GIS system is only as good as the data it holds. Setting up the map can be a major undertaking, and must be done with considerable forethought. Cooperation is necessary: be ready to look to everyone within your organization for ideas and answers. Be sure to communicate with outside departments and other agencies, as they may already be assembling data you\'re looking for.

GIS Expansion
Today, further projects such as sanitary and storm sewer facility mapping are going forward. Public works has purchased a GPS unit for these purposes. The City\'s engineering department has purchased water system modeling software to utilize GIS data to run flow models and determine where problems exist and improvements can be made. Water data is already synced to a second program that provides hydraulic modeling of the entire system.

Eventually, Priester hopes to interface with the SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) system already in place. This will provide accurate, real-time modeling of water system scenarios; making it possible to know which will be most beneficial for the city before they are implemented. The City can also input information from Cape Girardeau County GIS to determine property lines and ownership—which can save hours of work in information gathering alone.

Looking Ahead
As GIS technology advances, communities across the country will continue to evaluate its impact. Best practices and operating standards are developing, as are cooperative development and cost sharing programs between all levels of government. Applications are expanding from the original uses of planning, construction and property record management to include operations as varied as public access, permitting and crime tracking. GIS is also expected to play a large role in local emergency response and national homeland security preparedness.

The 2003 Survey on the Use of GIS Technology in Local Governments, a collaboration of the International City/County Management Association (ICMA), the National League of Cities (NLC), and the National Association of Counties (NACo) along with the US Department of Interior, sums it up this way: “GIS allows us to view, understand, question, interpret, and visualize data in ways simply not possible in the rows and columns of a spreadsheet. Beautiful and interesting maps provide better decision making tools and analysis and make a difference in our world.”

Alliance Water Resources would like to thank the City of Cape Girardeau and ESRI for their assistance with this article.

Thinking about GIS for your community? Alliance takes a look at what this technology has meant for one of our own client-partners, including key points to consider for your own utility.

Citizens of Cape Girardeau, Mo. are benefiting from speedier service calls, improved fire protection, and a more effective, efficient water department. The City implemented a GIS (Geographic Information System) program 5 years ago, and has since seen dramatic improvements in services to citizens. Alliance Water Resources takes a closer look at the City of Cape Girardeau to give you the inside track on GIS; from implementation to operation and beyond.

Making the Leap
A 2003 National GIS Survey from Public Technology, Inc. found that 56% of communities with a population of less than 50,000 are using GIS. Communities use GIS to view “old” information in a completely new, more comprehensive format. Cape Girardeau GIS coordinator Rich Daume agrees, “Once people see what a difference it can make to have your system information at your fingertips, the choice is obvious.”

GIS set-up requires software, hardware and at least one handheld device. Cape Girardeau chose ESRI\'s ArcGIS software. ArcView is used to update and maintain GIS data and ArcPad is used in the field with a Trimble GeoXT as the handheld GPS. Existing computer equipment was stepped up to handle software system requirements. Training was provided by Daume, and it took about a month for both techs (who actually use the handheld device in the field) and users (who manipulate data in the computer system and produce maps and/or reports) to feel comfortable working within the system.

Project Scope
The City\'s overall goal for GIS was to track all boundary and utility information. Water department goals were simple: produce accurate maps of the entire water system, and imbed up-to-date data behind the map.

At first, the City digitized all existing paper maps. The City of Cape Girardeau had purchased the water system from AmerenUE in 1992. Maps were obtained from AmerenUE, and had been maintained by hand until this project. Water lines and water points, such as hydrants and valves were included on the maps. Digitization of approximately 3,000 points and 250 miles of line took 3 months to accomplish. After the City purchased a Trimble ProXRS GPS, a project was launched to record all 15,000 water meters. GPS of the rest of the system is now underway with the Water Department\'s Trimble GeoXT.

Alliance Water Resources local manager Kevin Priester strategized with the City to expanded software licensing; a significant step toward putting GIS in the hands of all employees. This in turn has helped the City discover new ways to make use of mapping information. The GIS system today is utilized far beyond its initial expectations. And departments throughout the city have taken notice of improved customer service and work flow efficiency when using the system.

A Day in the Life
On a typical day, Alliance Water Resources GIS technician Kim Hoxworth first determines her project for the day and the geographic area she will be working in. Hoxworth then “checks out” appropriate data from a desktop computer into the handheld unit using a cradle device to sync the data. She can choose to check out as much or as little information as she\'ll need for her day\'s work—from a simple plot of street names and fire hydrants to a full-scale map of every water component stored in the desktop. “It depends on the project. More data will mean slower handheld operation, so I take only what I need,” says Hoxworth.

For example, when mapping fire hydrants within a new development, Hoxworth stands with the handheld directly above the hydrant. The unit then communicates with as many as 8 satellites (3 are required, 5 or more is optimal) and places hydrant icon directly into the map within the handheld device with sub-meter accuracy. At the end of the day, Hoxworth re-syncs the handheld with the desktop. Now all the information she gathered is part of the map and data system shared by 46 users in 8 different City departments. She can also enter pop-up information, such as hydrant flow and maintenance records, right on to the map. Any user can then click on an individual fire hydrant icon to see its particular record.

Uses
Information gathering is only half of the equation. The real test comes in using the information to make good decisions for the City. Priester now uses the system every day, “It\'s just a part of my work flow.” He finds the maps particularly effective as a communication tool, both with other departments and his own work crew. “It\'s amazing what people absorb from a visual map that they just don\'t see when looking at a row of numbers,” Priester says. He particularly likes an advantage that any time-crunched city leader would cherish—shorter meetings—“Meetings that used to be an hour can take just 20 minutes now. It\'s easier to share information, and everyone leaves on the same page.”

Maps are used to increase work efficiency, improve planning, and speed up work flow. The advantage of a bird\'s-eye view means the user can plot a map of work for the day and direct a crew to navigate their route as efficiently as possible. Time zappers such as returning for needed tools or parts can be eliminated because previous maintenance and manufacturer information are printed along with the map. So parts that will actually fit can make it to the job in the first place. Citizens benefit from quicker service because so much of the city\'s infrastructure is underground; accurate mapping means a lot less digging for buried lines or snow-covered meters.

Before You Buy
Cost is a consideration in any major project for a city or district. According to an ESRI rep, “the cost question depends on what the user would like to achieve and what level of precision is necessary.” Options range from a single copy of the software and consumer-level GPS device (around $1500), to an advanced “bundle,” with more comprehensive software and a Pocket PC (starting at around $3000). Some grants are available to supplement costs through vendors or government programs.

It\'s also important to think about which crew members will operate the equipment, who should be an authorized user, and how to get them trained. And any GIS system is only as good as the data it holds. Setting up the map can be a major undertaking, and must be done with considerable forethought. Cooperation is necessary: be ready to look to everyone within your organization for ideas and answers. Be sure to communicate with outside departments and other agencies, as they may already be assembling data you\'re looking for.

GIS Expansion
Today, further projects such as sanitary and storm sewer facility mapping are going forward. Public works has purchased a GPS unit for these purposes. The City\'s engineering department has purchased water system modeling software to utilize GIS data to run flow models and determine where problems exist and improvements can be made. Water data is already synced to a second program that provides hydraulic modeling of the entire system.

Eventually, Priester hopes to interface with the SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) system already in place. This will provide accurate, real-time modeling of water system scenarios; making it possible to know which will be most beneficial for the city before they are implemented. The City can also input information from Cape Girardeau County GIS to determine property lines and ownership—which can save hours of work in information gathering alone.

Looking Ahead
As GIS technology advances, communities across the country will continue to evaluate its impact. Best practices and operating standards are developing, as are cooperative development and cost sharing programs between all levels of government. Applications are expanding from the original uses of planning, construction and property record management to include operations as varied as public access, permitting and crime tracking. GIS is also expected to play a large role in local emergency response and national homeland security preparedness.

The 2003 Survey on the Use of GIS Technology in Local Governments, a collaboration of the International City/County Management Association (ICMA), the National League of Cities (NLC), and the National Association of Counties (NACo) along with the US Department of Interior, sums it up this way: “GIS allows us to view, understand, question, interpret, and visualize data in ways simply not possible in the rows and columns of a spreadsheet. Beautiful and interesting maps provide better decision making tools and analysis and make a difference in our world.”

Alliance Water Resources would like to thank the City of Cape Girardeau and ESRI for their assistance with this article.