Digital maps help bail out flooded NJ county
Digitization project makes public records available online
Record snowfall during the winter coupled with record rains in March produced record flooding throughout the Northeast, including Atlantic County, N.J.
“Countless numbers of homes were flooded,” said Atlantic County Clerk Ed McGettigan. “Places that had never been flooded before were hit.”
McGettigan’s office recently completed scanning about 8,700 maps into digital images and making them available electronically, through an in-house system in the recorder’s office and online via the Internet. The timing proved to be good when Federal Emergency Management Agency field workers came to the county seat of Mays Landing in response to the floods. They were able to access detailed information on cities, towns, subdivisions, rivers, streams and terrain without paging through the paper maps kept on file by the clerk. In addition, they could print the appropriate maps or portions of maps that they needed.
Digitization and democracy
“They could not believe what we had online,” McGettigan said. “They knew exactly where to go and what problems they could expect.”
The map project was one part of a long-term effort to digitize the millions of documents in the recorder’s office, McGettigan said. “Eventually, we are going to be paperless, holding onto only what is of historical value.”
Using state grants, the office has digitized 8 million page images into 600G of data since the work started 2000. “It’s a long process,” McGettigan said. “We’ve been doing it for a while.”
Most of the records are real estate documents, which are researched regularly by attorneys, engineers, real estate agents and real estate abstract companies. The maps were something of an afterthought because New Jersey state law requires that recorded maps, unlike other records, be kept in perpetuity in their original, hard-copy format.
“We had the technology here, so we decided to do it,” McGettigan said. The map work isn't increasing costs because employees do it as they have time. In addition to the 8,700 county maps, the clerk’s office recently completed scanning 2,700 tax maps from 23 municipalities within the county.
Although the physical maps have to be kept on file, researchers often only need a digital image. That is an advantage for users and the county.
“We have to preserve the integrity of the maps, and the less they are handled, the longer they will last,” McGettigan said.
The county is using a software package for recording, scanning, indexing, reporting and viewing from NewVision Systems, of New Canaan, Conn., said Deputy Clerk Arthur Lucchesi. The software runs on a Microsoft 2003 server, the maps are scanned on a Xerox 8810 wide-body scanner, and other documents are scanned on a Fujitsu scanner. The recorder’s office receives 200 to 300 maps a year, and employees scan each into the system as part of the recording process. Altogether, the office scanned about 89,000 new and archived documents last year.
The documents are stored in a SQL database housed in the clerk’s office. The database is accessible from a dozen public terminals in the records room. New data is uploaded each night to a NewVision Web server in Connecticut and is available the next day via the Internet at the office’s Web site at www.atlanticcountyclerk.org.
“You don’t want a Web-enabled product on your live database,” Lucchesi said.
“Doing the new stuff is easy,” he said. But when the office must scan older documents, the different types of paper and the different formats for information can be a challenge to integrate into a standard format for the digitized system. There are about 400 index books that date as far back as 1837 that contain handwritten references to handwritten records.
“The handwriting is just phenomenal,” he said.