What Can You do NOW to Prepare for GIS LATER?
By Micah Cutler, GISP
A Geographic Information System (GIS) can assist a municipality and its leaders to more easily access information as well as make better-informed decisions and manage a wide variety of assets. By utilizing resources such as aerial photography, engineering plans, and GPS data, city staff can build a system that tells them what they have, where it is, and how old it has become.
But a GIS does not happen overnight. It takes careful planning, guidance, and budget. GIS may seem like a tool that only wealthier and larger communities have. Often it can seem overwhelming and difficult to know where to begin. How can a small town with only a few employees possibly obtain a GIS? What can you do to get started today?
Small Towns, Big Advantages
Rural communities have so many advantages in building a GIS. Overall systems are smaller, so employees are intimately familiar with the entire water, sanitary, and/or sewer systems. Even if trouble spots like main breaks are not currently mapped, staff “know” where they are.
With an involved, multi-tasking staff, a single “champion” can have an out-sized influence on implementing a GIS. You know what specific challenges your city faces and, additionally, what strengths your city has when confronting them. This puts you in the best seat in the house to make a case for the benefits of a GIS.
GIS is scalable. It is not a one-size-fits-all solution. A city can start small and expand as time and budget allows. Maybe collect information about hydrants and manholes; the “stuff above ground” and plan for the time when water lines or sewer mains will be exposed to be worked on.
So, what can you do today? Building a GIS takes skill and time, but it also takes information. You are the custodian of that information right now. Here are three recommended steps that can positively impact your future GIS program;
- Form a GIS Committee and develop a 5-year GIS plan. What are your initial goals?
- Scan your current paper records, such as curb stop information or service line sketches. These can be attached to map layers for easing access and searching.
- Start asking your city’s consultants and engineers for GIS data as part of your deliverables. Start building your GIS library.