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Winter 2001/2002
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Arkansas State Parks Tracks Assets with GIS

 a picnic area in a state park
Arkansas State Parks inventories everything from buildings to park benches and camper pads.

By Karen Steede-Terry

Imagine for a moment that you are the regional director for a large hotel chain. It is your job to manage not only several facilities but also hundreds of assets and employees. If a crisis suddenly erupted at one hotel, chances are you would immediately call the hotel, or you might even jump in your vehicle and drive over there to handle the situation personally. You may even have to temporarily shift resources from one location to another until the crisis is over. Until a few years ago, this was what life was like for Greg Butts, director of Arkansas State Parks.

Up until 1996, Butts was competing with other State agencies for a share of the State's biennial budget. "We are a medium-sized State park system, but we have more than 16,000 different assets in more than 50 State parks including campsites, picnic sites, lodges, cabins, and hiking trails," he explains. "Trying to simultaneously keep track of all these assets as well as secure funding for them was a logistics nightmare."

Life changed for the department in 1996 when Arkansas voters approved Amendment 75, which authorized a one-eighth percent increase in the State sales tax. These dedicated funds provide approximately $20 million annually for maintaining and improving Arkansas' 52 State parks, historic sites, and museums. However, there was still the problem of managing, maintaining, and tracking hundreds of park facilities, assets, and construction projects scattered across the State.

According to Butts, "Last year alone we had 57 new projects initiated; design was completed on 52 of them, and construction began on 40 more for an estimated total value of $75 million. In addition, there were 22 different consultants working on these projects. Keeping up with that amount of information is no simple task. When we wanted to find out the status of one of these projects, we had to send e-mails and make a million phone calls in order to collect information from different sources."

screen shot from the ADPT GIS; click to see enlargement
The Arkansas PIMS database uses ArcView to view State park assets on a map as they are queried from the database.
 

Even with the additional funds provided through Amendment 75, the parks system was not in a position to hire additional staff, so they turned to the private sector. The department contracted with Carter & Burgess, Inc., an Esri Business Partner, to improve their asset management systems and to serve as an extension of their staff. Carter & Burgess, a nationwide engineering, architecture, and construction management firm specializing in GIS and Esri software, had an office in Little Rock, Arkansas, and was already known for its involvement in parks-related projects in the State including Hot Springs Creek Greenway. Now that it was part of the picture, Carter & Burgess realized that a spatial component (location) was the common element needed to tie everything together. They knew that the output and analysis capability of a GIS would greatly extend the usefulness of the park system's data.

Vince Guillet, GIS specialist for Carter & Burgess, explains why ArcView and ArcIMS were chosen for the project: "ArcIMS was an out-of-the-box Internet Map Server technology that served our needs well. In addition, ArcView was found to be the most dynamic of the desktop GIS environments. Furthermore, ArcView is easily customized with Avenue, allowing us to add new tools, menus, and buttons for routine functions and queries as well as remove any unnecessary features for beginning users. We needed a GIS that was able to perform complex data conversion and manipulation functions and view data in a scaled-back architecture suitable for non-GIS managers."

The first step was to inventory all existing assets and put them into a central database. In addition, all park personnel were interviewed to ensure that critical information was recorded and put into the central database. Carter & Burgess obtained information regarding the history of structures and other critical assets including such information as construction materials used, construction date, and date of last improvement. Previously, much of that information had been completely lost when employees retired or left the park system.

To fill in gaps, aerial photos were used to locate and record additional assets within the parks. For objects that were not visible on aerial photos, such as campgrounds hidden by trees, a GPS was used to record the locations of these facilities on the ground. All of the information was entered into a Web-based database, which tracked these assets as well as their status. This system, known as Parks Information Management System (PIMS), takes detailed information from the database and summarizes it for commissioners and park staff around the State. The PIMS database uses ArcView to view the assets on a map as they are queried from the database. Using ArcIMS software, PIMS information and maps are accessible from anywhere in the world via the Internet.

  screen shot showing a building inventory page; click to see enlargement
The first step in developing a comprehensive asset management system is to inventory all existing assets and put them into a central database.

Butts finds the management system's GIS component hard to beat. "We can query the PIMS for assets that are a certain number of years old, and it will display them on a map. This way, we can look ahead and see whether or not we will need to replace them," he says. "This works for roads that need to be resurfaced or for replacing hot water tanks within structures (lodges or cabins). Previously, we were always playing 'catch up' and doing virtually no preventative maintenance. Now, we can demonstrate to the legislature that our needs are being met in a methodical way instead of haphazardly. We can also demonstrate to the public that we are good stewards with their tax dollars."

In addition to everything else, the system has been a real time-saver. "I receive many inquiries each week concerning project status in any given park," explains Butts. "Previously, I would send out e-mails or make phone calls to find out the information that I needed. Now, I can access the system and find out not only the project's status but also who the contractors are (architects and engineers) as well as the project schedules. The whole purpose of PIMS was to get more organized, have all our data in one location, and share information among all employees. Maps make it easy to do that. As a result, PIMS has saved a lot of time, and time is money."

For more information, contact Bo Underwood, program director, Facilities Management Services, Carter and Burgess, or Jeff Fitzgerald, manager of GIS/Information Technology, Carter and Burgess (tel.: 817-735-6000). Karen Steede-Terry writes on GIS subjects.

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