The crews in the field are beginning to understand the importance of accurate locations and have embraced the new technology. There is a learning curve, and the process is iterative, but it's coming together nicely for us.
Pedaling Toward Innovation — Updating a Municipal GIS
After meeting with the town's stakeholders, the town of Cave Creek, Arizona, identified that the municipality had unreliable geospatial data that needed to be aggregated, updated, and made authoritative. Engineering as-builts, field technician markups, and various schematic geographic information system (GIS) drawings littered its databases and desks. On top of legacy data issues, the town realized the need for a new rapid data collection system and a better digital footprint. Shawn Kreuzwiesner, Utilities director for the town of Cave Creek, expressed that "we're working with a system that is over 50 years old, not built to a municipal standard, and poorly documented." Cave Creek enlisted Engineering Mapping Solutions (EMS) and Bad Elf to help update its badly outdated GIS.
"We strive to bring accuracy and affordability to GIS professionals who require maximum compatibility and ease of use with Esri solutions," said Larry Fox, vice president of Marketing and Business Development at Bad Elf. "Partnering with EMS and our customers allows us to provide creative implementations that are budget conscious and get the job done."
EMS proposed using its proprietary Biking Rapid Asset Collection (BikeRAC) solution to canvas the entire Cave Creek service area, collecting centimeter-accurate spatial data for all its assets. These included fire hydrants, sewer utilities, water valves, meters, and other visible features that would complete the overhauling and updating of its geospatial system. Kreuzwiesner now has an authoritative spatial location of the town's assets that he can use to verify records and the critical attributes of these collected features. Finally, the town of Cave Creek updated and re-engineered its geodatabases and significantly reduced its operating costs.
More than ever, constituents require small and local government agencies to be comprehensive at their jobs, innovative with their budget, and capable of supporting the needs of the community. With the development of new technologies, all while maintaining aging infrastructure, the requirement for innovative solutions is paramount. The town's constituents and employees also find it helpful to know the location of previous "Blue Stake" (call before you dig) markings of underground utilities.
Historically, the method for gathering field points required well-trained survey crews, using expensive equipment. Individual users embraced the technology, but the cost and logistics of processing the data proved challenging. Lower costs and ease of use of Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) technology are changing the way GIS users collect and manage geographic data.
"Supplementing the GIS with accurate GPS points ensures our system's viability beyond legacy staff knowledge," said Kreuzwiesner. "Our challenges in rural areas are unlike our city counterparts. For instance, road shoulder grading is a challenge as it covers our valves and manholes.
In 2020, Kreuzwiesner determined that the town needed to design, construct, and implement a custom GIS that is functional, scalable, and cost-efficient. Furthermore, he wanted to leverage Esri's tools to design a solution to benefit the town's water and sewer utility system.
Bad Elf designs and manufactures high-accuracy GNSS receivers. The company works with other GIS solutions providers to develop cost-effective turnkey solutions. It is well positioned to provide training to governments and municipalities that need a complete Esri deployment. "The power of our collaborative approach draws from the ability to integrate and use multiple technologies confidently for a single solution," said Dr. Nik Smilovsky, Bad Elf GIS Solutions director.
EMS and Bad Elf worked directly with Cave Creek to create a custom geodatabase and the commensurate tools to manage primary data collection. To reconcile discrepancies, EMS collaborated with town staff using the field staff's local knowledge and expertise. For any unresolved issues, the town deployed its field staff equipped with a stationary Bad Elf Flex GNSS and Esri's ArcGIS Field Maps software to gather discrepant data required to complete the updates.
Primary data collection consists of the Bad Elf Flex GNSS survey-grade receiver, an e-bike for a sustainable and cost-effective way to quickly acquire field data, and a 3D GoPro MAX 360-degree camera to collect associated imagery for data interpolation and extraction.
The data collection system provides two methods to capture asset data. The first method manually collects asset data in the field. Using this method, the technician rides the e-bike and positions the front wheel over the object of interest. The rider stops and collects asset location and data via a tablet using Esri's ArcGIS Field Maps app.
The second method uses the collected GoPro imagery in the office with a custom EMS application, designed to interpolate the positions of pixels based on a proprietary algorithm. This method allows location of assets that were unavailable for direct capture or out of the right-of-way to be collected with confidence. This data is easily accessible to office staff and available to supplement future direct capture locations.
Using ArcGIS Field Maps makes field data collection simple by keeping the entire data collection ecosystem in a single software suite. This app directly and dynamically connects with ArcGIS Online so that data being collected can be easily processed and reviewed in the office. The ArcGIS Field Maps app integrates three core elements of asset recording. In one collection step, the app records a high-accuracy location, attribute data associated with the asset, and a digital photo geotagged with the asset's location.
Market research indicates that a traditional registered surveyor would cost between $80 and $100 per field-collected point. Using this math, the town of Cave Creek estimated that it would have to spend about $350,000 to complete this project. However, with EMS's innovative geospatial solution, the project cost dropped to just over $15,000—a savings of more than 95 percent.
The BikeRAC system allowed EMS to collect an average of 80 to 100 spatial points per hour at a rate of approximately three centerline miles per hour (MPH). Newly captured spatial data contained full attribute information as well as high-accuracy location and metadata.
The town of Cave Creek and EMS are systematically reviewing the points overlaid to further refine the GIS. The team meets once a week online, for two hours, to edit and discuss issues that require field validation. These review sessions consist of four activities: using ArcGIS Online web viewing to inspect the collected field points; performing ArcMap editing; reviewing as-built plans; and, most importantly, sharing field knowledge.
"BikeRAC has taught us the value of canvassing the entire project area, capturing as many visible features as possible," said Kreuzwiesner, "to build a control fabric by which all future editing can reference." Once areas of concern are identified, the team can choose to redeploy the BikeRAC system or simply deploy town staff to the area.
Now that the town of Cave Creek staff are proficient in using the Bad Elf Flex, they integrate GNSS technology into their daily routines. For example, if a crew has exposed a waterline to repair a breakage, town staff can now collect the location that they would not otherwise have known.
Another example of why a comprehensive GIS is beneficial for Cave Creek occurred while the BikeRAC system located a discrepancy. Data from EMS discovered one valve, but field crews knew there was a configuration feeding this booster station with three separate valves. Using underground locators, the team uncovered missing infrastructure and was able to record new, highly accurate positions. Kreuzwiesner explains, "The GPS has proven to be invaluable for daily operations and long-term planning; furthermore, once we have the GPS, locating buried assets using the GPS drives us right to them."
"We find that when our government customer has the full inventory, located with pinpoint accuracy, that ensures that all projects are efficient and cost-effective," says Dr. Smilovsky. "Having a full inventory of spatial assets allows the governments and municipalities to deploy staff and subcontractors efficiently."