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Mobile GIS Helps Fight Desert Dumping

Gaining Insights

The day's next investigation is approximately 40 miles north of the office, near the community of Garfield at the northern boundary of Doņa Ana County. The dumping site is located near the solid waste transfer stations outside the community. The county's Environmental Services Department operates eight transfer stations located throughout the county. These stations serve as collection points for county residents who do not have curbside trash collection. There is no charge to county residents who wish to dump trash at the transfer stations. Richard and Jerry are investigating a report of an illegal dump site near the transfer station.

ArcPad is loaded with the county's parcel basemap, road centerlines, and jurisdictional boundaries so the officers can answer jurisdictional questions by displaying their location on the map.

The code enforcement grant project has yielded unexpected information about transfer stations. In planning the project, it was anticipated that illegal dump site locations would reveal areas where new transfer stations were needed. What the project has revealed, however, is that residents need to be educated about the availability of transfer stations and their hours of operation. Jerry reports that they have found "at least a dozen illegal dump sites within a hundred yards of transfer stations."

County residents haul their trash to a transfer station. If the station is closed, rather than haul the trash back, some residents may dump it in the desert. As Richard states, "They find the nearest arroyo and just dump it in there." The dump site near the transfer station in Garfield consists of general household trash.

Trash takes on a life of its own in the desert. Garbage bags deteriorate in the sun, and strong winds spread the trash across the desert. This trash has already begun spreading at this site. Richard dons gloves to begin searching for evidence of the potential responsible party, and Jerry inputs information into the GeoXT handheld.

Streamlining Data Collection

Mobile GIS streamlines data collection in the field. Custom input forms in ArcPad allow data to be collected more quickly than with pen and paper. Uploading data automatically to the desktop GIS in the office eliminates both the manual data entry of handwritten field notes and the errors caused by typing mistakes or misread field notes. The Mobile Government grant project included ArcPad for the GeoXT GPS and ArcPad Application Builder. ArcPad Studio, a desktop customization application, is part of ArcPad Application Builder. In ArcPad Studio, users can create custom forms that are then deployed to ArcPad.

GIS analyst Frank Dodd developed a custom data entry form that steps users through three data input pages. The first page records site information as latitude and longitude or uses the property's physical address. It includes an input field for contact information and a pick list of city and community place names. The custom program reads the parcel basemap and automatically populates the ownership information for the site. Richard and Jerry can also override this feature and manually enter data for off-site investigations.

The second page of the form is the materials information page. Radio buttons allow the type of violation to be selected. Check boxes are used for recording the type of solid waste found at the site. This list includes garbage (household waste), tires, metal, white waste (appliances), construction material, wood, or car parts, and an input field is included for adding other types of waste.

The third page of the form is the enforcement information page. It includes an input field for recording information on possible responsible parties. In New Mexico, if no responsible party is determined, the property owner is liable for the dump site so the custom form defaults to the property owner as the potential responsible party. This can be changed if information at the site reveals evidence indicating who the illegal dumper might be.

The enforcement information page also includes an input field for the citation number and radio buttons for the type of citation issued, if one was issued. Any additional information about the site can be recorded in the comments field. A pick list offers options for the status of the case-pending, improved, not improved, case closed, and no violation. There is an optional check box to schedule a follow-up visit to a site. Activating it opens the calendar control. Read only-data included in the data table is the date of inspection. Case numbers are automatically incremented. The case numbers are used to link digital photos to the field data in the county's GIS.

A second form for follow-up visits displays data from the initial visit on the first page. The second page has an input field for comments and a site status pick list containing choices for improved, not improved, and case closed. When case closed is selected, the program automatically populates the date closed field.

ArcPad Studio allows full control over form layout and functionality. The drag and drop design means no programming experience is needed to create basic custom forms. With a cursory knowledge of programming, the user can create more detailed forms. The forms can be any size up to full screen. Frank used the full screen size and located text entry fields in the top half of all pages to limit conflicts between text fields and the GeoXT handheld's onscreen keyboard.

The developer can create and control tools, buttons, and layers programmatically in ArcPad Studio. After field testing the custom forms, Frank added a button control to toggle the parcel basemap on and off to improve regeneration time.

The flexibility and power of mobile GIS allows Richard and Jerry to more quickly, efficiently, and accurately carry out field investigations. After completing the investigation of the dump site near the Garfield transfer station, they are able to investigate seven other sites that day as they work their way back to the office in Las Cruces.

Evaluating the Project

In the final evaluation of the project, Richard and Jerry like the rugged design of the Trimble GeoXT handheld, the improved efficiency and accuracy of fieldwork, and the ease of use made possible by custom input forms. While developing the procedures for Doņa Ana County's environmental code enforcement, they had sought innovative ways to improve their methods. Mobile GIS has proven to be exactly the tool they needed.

However, they did have one complaint. They had to share a single GeoXT handheld and ArcPad license. Doņa Ana County plans to remedy this situation. The county plans to expand the use of mobile GIS to include planning code enforcement and vector control applications. For more information, contact

Sally B. Baxter, GIS Manager
Doņa Ana County, New Mexico

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