GIS reaches way beyond mapping

GIS reaches way beyond mapping

From firefighting to flood prevention to human services, there's almost nothing local governments do that doesn't involve geographic information systems.

At the FOSE trade show today, representatives of four local governments--Fairfax and Prince William counties, Va., Washington, D.C., and Virginia Beach, Va.--talked about how they use GIS to improve citizens' quality of life. And it's not all street maps and parcel searches.

Washington, D.C., for example, used GIS to map prospective sites for the new baseball stadium, said Barney Krucoff, the city's GIS director.

In each of the four jurisdictions, emergency services departments were the first to embrace GIS. The Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department used GIS to reach a goal of seven-minute response time, said Tom Conry, GIS manager for the county. The county's police stations also use GIS to predict where crime will occur, he said.

In Washington, GIS gave the city's Water and Sewer Authority the location of every fire hydrant. The authority also uses the city GIS to track lead contamination in drinking water.

Each D.C. police station has its own crime analyst who is well-versed in GIS, Krucoff said. The places that analysts identify as crime hotspots are now getting extra attention from several agencies, he said.

Washington regularly plays host to large events that require interfacing with the federal government, such as this year's presidential inauguration. The citywide GIS helps to "avoid a pre-event scramble," Krucoff said.

D.C.'s Health Department is building an epidemiological GIS layer that will show the outbreak of certain illnesses. The GIS also shows where families can go to find services such as tutors or drug rehabilitation centers.

Prince William County uses GIS to map its Meals on Wheels program, said Chris Watt, GIS application developer for the county. The health department also has mapped West Nile virus infections.

Fairfax's main GIS office is responsible for maintaining orthophotos, parcel and zoning maps, and oblique images, Conry said. "We set up a hub-and-spoke model," and agencies' data links back to the central GIS.

"The honey we use to draw people" is a large Sun Microsystems Inc. storage area network server with terabytes of data, Conry said. " 'Bring it on' is our motto." The county hopes to consolidate all its data in one place, where it can be sliced and diced for applications such as human services and public safety.

Virginia Beach, Va., has a highly specialized use for GIS. The coastline city is especially vulnerable to hurricanes, said Beth Richardson, applications support administrator for Virginia Beach's Communications and IT Department. Residents can type an address on the city's Web site and get a customized hurricane report that shows anticipated storm surge as well as directions to the nearest shelter.

Each of the four governments has standardized on GIS products from ESRI of Redlands, Calif.

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.

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