Orange County Public Works Using GIS to Innovate
Orange County, California is home to over 3 million residents and 34 cities. To maintain, protect, and enrich the public services and infrastructure that these residents rely on, OC Public Works turned to geographic information system (GIS) technology to rethink and redesign some of the organization's workflows to be more efficient. Whether it's using Internet of Things (IoT) devices to receive real-time information or automating right-of-way (ROW) maps to support the community's infrastructure, OC Public Works continues to enhance the quality of life for residents, one workflow at a time.
Managing Landfill Stockpiles with Modern Technology
Orange County Waste and Recycling is an agency that operates three landfills. These landfills are among the largest in California and receive more than four million tons of solid waste annually. A critical safety concern at landfills is monitoring and regulating waste stockpile temperatures.
OC Public Works equipped drones with thermal imaging infrared cameras to test a way of detecting the surface temperature of stockpiles. As the surface of stockpiles reached a specific heat threshold, staff would manually record the internal temperature of each stockpile to mitigate the risk of an internal fire that could quickly spread. Although this process helped landfill managers, it lacked real-time awareness and an active approach to internal temperature control.
The county was already familiar with pulling live data streams from its fleet vehicles into GIS to know when to provide preventative maintenance. The same concept was applied to waste stockpiles. County GIS staff inserted Raspberry Pi sensors into each stockpile, and the sensors would record the internal temperature automatically. Then, using ArcGIS Velocity, an add-on software as a service for ArcGIS Online, staff programmed the sensors to feed the data into a web map and show real-time temperatures within each stockpile.
"For about $40 per device, we can deploy several sensors in different locations within a stockpile and collect precise insights 24/7," explained Cameron Smith, GIS manager at OC Public Works. "Outsourcing this to a vendor would've cost the county tens of thousands of dollars yearly."
Staff can also push alerts when internal temperatures have passed a certain threshold, putting time-sensitive information into the hands of managers and landfill personnel. Manually taking temperature probes is no longer required, eliminating the danger of someone facing a potential fire hazard. In addition, staff can build a dataset of temperature readings over time to look for trends and patterns. In the future, county staff can integrate other sensors—such as methane or moisture sensors—to enrich their data even further.
Although the county was already working with regulators to ensure that the landfills operate in full compliance with all federal, state, and local codes and regulations, this technology will keep the community and personnel safer and help save the county employee time and taxpayer dollars.
Simplifying Right-of-Way Mapping
OC Public Works is responsible for managing the ROW of county roads, flood channels, parks, and the airport. Every time there is a question of who owns what, or decisions about where the county can build or repair infrastructure, identifying the ROW is the very basis of the process, and it's often frustrating.
The right-of-way group responsible for pulling the maps would take static CAD drawings of the ROW and add hand-drawn markups if there were changes or updates to the land in question. This process lacked the real-world context of that land with other parcels, the ROW, and the terrain or environment.
Using ArcGIS, OC Public Works staff took all their CAD drawings and used each drawing's map extent to import ROW data into the county's GIS database. Then—using ArcGIS Parcel Fabric, software providing a core functionality in ArcGIS Pro for maintaining authoritative parcel data—they were able to map the ROW boundaries within the county's parcel fabric.
Aggregating the county's parcel GIS database with the ROW parcels provides much more insight than keeping ROW maps separate. It's much easier to maintain, search for, and query ROW information and share that information across teams.
For example, suppose staff need to see where all the easements are with a specific grantor. In that case, they can quickly filter through easement records, or staff can identify which entity is responsible for repairs when there's damage in a specific flood channel or another ROW asset. They can also overlay aerial imagery to the ROW maps to visualize the boundaries of the parcels in relation to the real-world environment.
Automating ROW maps streamlines any future capital projects' research and reduces roadblocks that deter and slow investment. With an influx of federal funding and infrastructure investment in communities across the nation, Orange County can facilitate the acquisition of property or the analysis of existing rights-of-way, and improve coordination with stakeholders, to see which ROW can support the community's needs.
Think about What You Can Improve Each Step of the Way
Public works professionals have always looked for new ways to fulfill their mission. Most public works agencies are using GIS for common workflows and operations, but just like OC Public Works, agencies can find specific areas in the work they do and streamline a process that continues to add value for staff and residents alike.
If there's a location aspect to a task, workflow, or project, GIS can be incorporated into it. Solving problems using a geographic approach is not new, and applied GIS is improving decision-making and forcing agencies to change their "business as usual" mindsets.