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Fall 2006
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City of Bend, Oregon

Managing Increased Demand for Services with GIS

Most of the challenges facing the City of Bend, Oregon, are the result of a situation most other cities would characterize as "a nice problem to have."

  click to enlarge
Using automated vehicle location, Public Works drivers send geographic data from the field and use it to optimize their workflows.

For the past few years, Bend has shown up on just about every "Best of" listing you can imagine. It's been recognized as one of America's best cities for doing business, as one of the best places to retire, even as one of the best places on the globe to eat. Recently, the city has been mentioned in Condé Nast Traveler, Golf Digest, Inc. magazine, and Money magazine for its scenic location; great weather; moderate cost of living; strong, diverse economy; and accessibility to every imaginable outdoor pursuit.

All the attention has brought thousands of new residents and visitors to Bend and, as IT director Steve Meyers knows, pressure to move at "warp speed" to manage the growth and keep up with the demands of citizens and businesses.

Thirty years ago, when Meyers moved to Bend, the population was 15,000. Today it is 70,000, and city building inspectors are performing inspections at a rate twice the national average.

When Meyers saw GIS as an emerging technology several years ago, he immediately recognized it would play a key role in the city's IT efforts. But he felt the technology would not be a good investment for the city until it became easy and affordable enough for rank and file employees to use and when it could be integrated with Bend's existing applications and tap into the massive database the city had accumulated over the years.

Then Meyers saw a demo of an ArcIMS software-based intranet software solution. "I thought: This is it. This is what I've been waiting for. Here's a way I can give GIS functionality to all of the city's employees, not just a few, and no one needs GIS training to use it."

Meyers purchased the ArcIMS software-based application, LGweb, from Goldsboro, North Carolina-based Esri Business Partner Geographic Technologies Group, Inc. (GTG). LGweb is an ActiveX connector to ArcIMS, giving clients the ability to view, manipulate, and edit data in a geographic interface. Then Bend gave the capability to employees in various city departments using LGviewer and extended it to citizens via LGpublic.

"Our internal users love that the technology gives our citizens the tools to do so much of their own research," Meyers says. "It reduces the number of calls we get for information so our staff has time to spend with citizens with more complex requests."

With ArcIMS, citizens can now use the city's Web site (www.ci.bend.or.us) to easily see what's going on in their rapidly growing community: which planning and zoning projects are active, which building permits have been issued, the results of recent inspections, how close the nearest school or park is to a house they're considering buying, or which neighborhood association is nearest. They can choose an intersection and see traffic counts; view aerial photographs; check the location of emergency services; and see Bend's geographic landmarks like streams, canals, and the Deschutes River.

"The citizens have told us they love it because having all that information at hand helps them make better decisions, and they can access it whenever it's convenient for them, from anywhere with Internet access," Meyers says.

As soon as the technology was introduced to city employees, Meyers began fielding a barrage of requests for expanded functionality.

"Our users would say, 'This is great, but it would be even better if we could do this," Meyers adds. "Almost immediately, our staff began asking for GIS access to workers in the field. They wanted automated vehicle location (AVL). The public works managers wanted every driver to be able to send geographic data back from the field and use it to optimize their workflows."

Today, AVL is a reality in Bend. Devices were installed recently in all of the city's street sweepers and will soon be installed in its snowplows, which work year-round to prepare the roads for snowfall by spreading cinders for traction and to clear them afterward. Bend again utilized GTG to implement an Esri object-based solution for AVL.

"This is a huge benefit for us, and not just so we can see where our equipment is," comments Meyers. "We're going to be checking the speed of the vehicles, because we know the optimum speed is between 8 and 15 miles per hour. We're going to be monitoring the temperature so we can more efficiently use the deicer to prevent ice, and we'll be able to see how much time each day the blade is engaged because that has maintenance implications.

"I'm especially excited that our crews will be able to easily report problems that need our attention by clicking a button that will give our managers the exact coordinates of the problem," Meyers says. "We can evaluate if it's something that needs immediate attention—like a stop sign down—and take care of it. The city's busy building inspectors now have laptops in their vehicles with remote access to GIS. Our inspectors will enter the results of the inspections in their laptops on-site. As soon as it's done, the information will be transmitted back to the office and the inspector will leave a copy at the site. Contractors will be able to go online and view the results as soon as they are entered. And GIS will also help us optimize the best routes for the staff to take. With rising gas prices, this becomes more important every day."

The city of Bend's innovative GIS use is drawing new attention. "We've made some national presentations, and that always creates a stream of calls and visits to see how we've done it. And while they're here, they see what a great city we have. We're the worst-kept secret in America."

More Information

For more information, contact Steve Meyers, IT director, City of Bend (tel.: 541-388-5512, e-mail: smeyers@ci.bend, Web: www.bend.or.us), or Curtis Hinton, CEO, GTG (tel.: 919-759-9214, e-mail: curt@geotg.com, Web: www.geotg.com).

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