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Fall 2009
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Online Only Article GIS Improves Operations and Service Delivery

City of Dover Provides Enterprise-Wide Geospatial Application Access


  • Easy-to-use mobile applications streamline city inspections.
  • Continuously updated situational awareness helps with event safety.
  • Customized solutions for multiple departments promote communication.

The City of Dover, Delaware, with a population of approximately 35,000 citizens, faces numerous challenges as a local government agency—challenges similar to those faced by municipalities of all sizes throughout the country. Providing improved government services to constituents requires getting the most out of finite resources and discovering new ways to streamline workflows.

  example of election voting districts
The GIS-supported City Clerk Mapping Application visualizes election voting districts.

The City of Dover recently deployed an enterprise geospatial platform that improves a wide range of city functions by opening up data stores and providing seamless, user-friendly information access. Using mobile GIS software, city employees can open their Web browser in the office, as well as in the field, to access extensive data viewing, analysis, and capture capabilities.

The enterprise solution is successfully used across numerous departments, including planning, public utilities, the city clerk's office, the tax assessor's office, and the fire marshal's office. In fact, the city successfully uses server and mobile GIS technology during its NASCAR racing events every June and September. The technology allows public safety managers at the command center to view continually updated maps, and it allows field personnel to easily capture data remotely. This is just one of several GIS successes now achieved by the city.

The Move to Server GIS

Since the city's initial GIS launch, the use of spatial applications to make better decisions has grown immensely. Community development and public works projects all benefited from using spatially analyzed and mapped data. The city expanded access to other departments and users with ArcReader, an easy-to-use visualization tool. Eventually, demand grew, and City of Dover GIS manager Mark Nowak looked to a more integrated, comprehensive approach to extending services even further.

The city deployed ArcGIS Server in fall 2007 with several applications developed internally for departments such as planning, electric, city clerk's office, and office of the fire marshal. For each application, the GIS manager worked with the individual department to provide application customization and functional requirements that were easy to use and did not need additional training.

"We wanted to get GIS functionality on everybody's desktop," says Nowak. "A GIS server allows us to do that without having to install software on everyone's desk or having to provide training to everybody in the city.

"With ArcGIS Server, you can use the Web to deploy GIS capabilities to staff," continues Nowak. "They can access the application they need. And I can build custom applications that meet different requirements and upload those to the Web."

GIS Qualifies for NASCAR

The City of Dover deployed ArcGIS Server and ArcGIS Mobile software as a test run in 2007, specifically for the NASCAR racing events held in June and September at Dover International Speedway. Each event attracts tens of thousands of visitors, so public safety and crowd control are crucial. With the first test run a success, it was decided that the platform will be used biannually for future races.

  example of the GIS Development Activity layer
The City of Dover's Planning Map Application illustrates the city's GIS Development Activity layer.

Using their GIS software during the event, command center staff and field personnel visualized reported incidents, code violations, accidents, and other event data. This provided an accurate, continually updated common operating picture that was shared with different locations simultaneously. Field crews accessed information using mobile computers as they performed their daily monitoring duties and used digital data collection tools to record their work.

As a user in the field collected new data, it was instantly fed back to a server at the command center using a broadband router connected to the server and a broadband card inside the field vehicles. New data updates were integrated into the GIS database and pushed back to mobile devices.

Using GPS tracking tools in the mobile devices, command staff could view the locations of fire personnel, inspectors, code compliance officers, and other public safety workers.

"Communications are improved because now everything goes through the mobile command post used during race weekends and decisions are made using information collected in the GIS NASCAR event solution," says Nowak. "Prior to this, decisions were made by field personnel without a clear understanding of the overall operational picture."

Providing the City Fire Marshal with a Digital Toolkit in the Field

The Dover Fire Marshal has an improved, fully automated toolkit available for inspection duties. The application was developed by Nowak with design specifications provided by the city's fire marshal.

One of the primary duties of the fire marshal is to perform permit and building inspections. While in the field, the fire marshal can use a wireless laptop computer to view an address, business name, and other attribute information about one or more locations. Clicking on the building location in the map reveals additional information about the structure and property when the fire marshal inspects a building; he uses a list of code requirements that depends on the building type, location, and type of business permits. For instance, he must ensure that the capacity requirements for a restaurant or nightclub are not exceeded. Other code requirements, such as the number of accessible exit locations and the type of fixed fire alarms and sprinklers, are also inspected. He uses the Fire Marshal Map Application, a GIS-enabled Web application that shows what needs to be inspected, as well as the history of incidents at the site. He can then update the information as needed without returning to the office.

  example of the fire marshall application
The Fire Marshal Application is accessible from a mobile or desktop computer and is often used to log data about Dover's buildings.

"He views and enters whatever information he needs and then goes to the next building location," says Nowak. "He simply logs on to the Web with a Verizon broadband card, pulls the application up, and does these edits in the field."

Taking the Geographic Approach Across Multiple Departments

More than 50 spatial layers relating to land, land use, building permits, city infrastructure, and more, are maintained and shared throughout the city because of its use of ArcGIS Server. The city's planning office uses a customized application to view streets, parcels, aerial photos, zoning, development activity, annexations, and other data to design new growth and manage city expansion. GIS is used in the city clerk's office to determine where new residents must go to vote. In addition to assigning residents to proper voting locations, they can access the application remotely during elections if a resident accidentally arrives to vote at an incorrect location.

The city assessor's office uses GIS to verify building permit information. For example, when a landowner demolishes a building on a parcel of land, tax codes change, so an assessor must verify demolition permits to ensure the proposed demolition has taken place. From a desktop, an assessor can use aerial photos, captured and maintained in GIS, to search through backlog data and ensure proper code enforcement.

The assessor's office also uses the aerial data to verify other items, such as the number of structures on a property and types of structures. Instead of going into the field to verify a new structure, such as an apartment building that has multiple addresses, the assessors can view the data from their desktops.

"We can do things now that we could not previously do," says Nowak. "And perhaps the biggest benefit is time saved. It's a huge amount. City employees can perform tasks using fewer steps to get the information they need, and we can provide solutions faster and using fewer resources. It saves everyone lots of time."

More Information

For more information, contact Mark Nowak, City of Dover, Delaware, GIS manager (e-mail:

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