How Auburn, Maine, Keeps the City Running during the COVID-19 Pandemic
By Christopher Thomas, Director of Government Markets, Esri
During the current coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, many government employees are working from home—whether because it's mandated to do so or because they are caring for their children while schools are closed. This presents a unique challenge for city governments to ensure that staff are still ready to respond to a crisis.
In Auburn, Maine, city managers recognized the situation early on and took proactive measures to provide all 23,000 residents with the services they will need during these unprecedented times. Whether it's routine trash pickups or emergency response, all departments serve crucial roles for the city. In addition, Auburn leaders are concerned about staff who are constantly exposed to the public, such as those in public works. The city must be prepared to adjust staff if necessary.
"In the event of a snowstorm, for example, which is likely in March or April in Maine, public works staff will need to plow, sand, and salt roads," said Rosemary Mosher, GIS manager, City of Auburn.
Since Auburn is a geographically large city of 68 square miles with many miles of road, the task of plowing snowy roads was a challenge even before the spread of COVID-19. Now, city managers will have to factor in staff availability and balance other urgent needs for the city.
Using a Geospatial Solution
For many years, the Auburn city government has relied on a geographic information system (GIS) to manage and analyze data related to the city infrastructure and operations. City leaders use GIS maps and dashboards for emergency management, public works, planning, and civic engagement.
Upon facing the COVID-19 pandemic, the city again turned to its GIS. City managers worked with ArcGIS to approach the potential staffing challenge. They created an ArcGIS dashboard to track the number of staff absences as well as the reasons for absences—such as flu, child care, or remote work—for each city department.
Someone to Answer the Call
"Auburn is taking action now so that we can continue to protect and serve our residents as the virus inevitably spreads." - Rosemary Mosher, GIS manager, City of Auburn
Other than emergency services and public works, many city departments have fewer than 10 people on staff. This means staff absences can have significant impact on services.
"Regardless of the department, all Auburn city staff are sworn in as civil servants and vow to be ready to respond if there is any crisis," said Mosher.
In that spirit, Auburn's ArcGIS dashboard allows city leaders to monitor staff. At a glance, they can see who can come in to work, who is sick, and which departments have a need for additional staff. With this level of real-time visibility, managers can quickly adjust or mobilize their workforce and continue responding to residents' needs with no delay.
While each day brings new challenges, Auburn city staff continue to rely on GIS to help them analyze and visualize their data so that they can provide for the day-to-day city operations and overall needs of residents.
Like many other cities across the US, Auburn is extending deadlines for tax payments and offering small business loans and loan forbearance. The city is also providing free breakfasts and lunches for students to replace school meals, and setting up grab-and-go meals for seniors.
"All of these efforts require city staff management and oversight," said Mosher. "GIS technology continues to prove its value in times like these."
As Auburn leaders must consider many variables when making decisions for the city, they count on the GIS dashboard to provide a real-time view of residents and staff.
"Auburn is taking action now so that we can continue to protect and serve our residents as the virus inevitably spreads," said Mosher. "Our staff are already working hard to support the public."
The story of Auburn, Maine, is just one example of how organizations are using GIS to respond to and operate more effectively during the COVID-19 crisis. This can be replicated in communities around the globe. Esri is dedicated to supporting response efforts through software, technical support, and resources. Some examples include
- The COVID-19 GIS Hub, a definitive resource for data, solutions, FAQs, and best practices.
- The Esri Disaster Response Program (DRP). For immediate assistance, submit a Request for Assistance form. Requests are monitored 24/7, and staff can assist you with GIS software needs, technical support, services, and data.
Esri will continue to gather best practices and share the lessons learned from jurisdictions worldwide to provide greater understanding and inspiration for COVID-19 response efforts.