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Spring 2005
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Mapping Progress in the Nation's Fourth Largest City

Aalborg, Denmark, Consolidates All Its Municipal Utility Companies Through GIS

  click to enlarge
The screen shot shows part of an electric network and the effect of zooming in.

More than 650 years ago, King Valdemar of Denmark granted Aalborg, then a thriving coastal village on the Limfjord, a charter that regulated the relationship between the king and the municipality and empowered civic leaders to provide efficient local government and services to its citizens.

Now the fourth largest city in Denmark, Aalborg is a model of responsible local government, as evidenced by its hosting of the Charter of European Cities & Towns Towards Sustainability Conference in 1994. There, the Aalborg Charter was ratified, which encourages municipal governments to undertake environmentally sustainable programs for planning and development.

Additionally, Aalborg has implemented various GIS-based civic initiatives, including the Active Map of Aalborg and Digital Democracy in Rural Areas, to keep its citizens better informed and involved in the local decision making process by providing easier access to municipal information via the Internet.

One of Aalborg's many noteworthy endeavors is the consolidation of all municipal utility companies into a single agency responsible for gas, electric, district heating, water, wastewater, and waste disposal management. Since each of these utilities is similar in operation and responsibility, their unification allows the elimination of various redundancies common to each agency, as well as the creation of unique cooperative benefits. For example, the heat produced by the incineration of materials from household and industry waste collection, combined with the surplus heat generated by industry, is used to supply large-scale district heating networks.

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A screen shot showing a set of different utility lines. Included are district heating, power cables, water, and gas lines.

A key element of the amalgamated Aalborg utility agency is the centralization of all GIS efforts. GIS data and services are provided by a single department, which ensures that each utility is working from the same updated maps and data. This has further allowed the Aalborg municipality to streamline government and improve services by making critical information more readily available to the various city departments. The departments are connected to one another with a 1 GB network for high-speed communication.

In conjunction with the centralization of its public utilities, the municipality established a management team to develop long-term strategies to increase efficiency through automation and restructured operating procedures. The management team identified GIS as a strategic tool in its modernization efforts, and the technology is now promoted throughout the entire public utility organization.

The city began automating its utility database with the digitizing of its pipeline network in 1988. In 1996, following an intensive competitive evaluation, it licensed ArcInfo GIS software. Three years later, after the development of its extensive geodatabase, the GIS Department began creating utility specific data models.

The Aalborg GIS is extensive, containing almost 600 different feature classes within its geodatabase, which is updated on a daily basis. Some of the feature classes include data that comes from the integration with other systems, including supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), customer billing systems, network modeling systems, cadastral data, aerial photography, technical basemaps, separate databases, and many others.

Evolving GIS

Jens Henrik Sørensen, project manager of the Aalborg GIS Department, comments on the direction of the department as the Aalborg GIS continues to evolve. "Because of the strict requirements to integrate other systems and databases with our GIS, the complexity of our existing spatial databases, and the ongoing need to contain costs, our methodology is to implement a collection of standard data models for our GIS to increase the efficiency and capabilities of our system."

The municipality began to construct functionally integrated and coherent data models to support the development of its spatial databases. The designs needed to be dynamic and compatible with existing data.

The initial model was for its gas utility and was developed with the help of Esri Business Partner Miner & Miner (Fort Collins, Colorado), which specializes in the implementation of GIS utility applications. The model was implemented in 2000 and was followed by the development of a water distribution model that was completed in 2001 with the help of Esri. Since then, the city's district heating and electricity models have also been completed. The municipality's wastewater, communications, and cadastral models are all currently under development.

Sørensen continues, "Developing our GIS with the use of data models has given us the opportunity to jump-start our projects. The models give us a high degree of flexibility and more freedom in the comparison and analysis of our data. They are working particularly well for our municipality because we have centralized our databases, which allows us to provide the most current versions of the data to our users with the least amount of duplication."

The dynamic capabilities of the Aalborg GIS are already providing substantial benefits to the city. For example, today standard measurements indicating the location of district heating utility lines and fittings include Z values, which facilitate the calculations of pressure and temperature for network modeling. However, Aalborg's original district heating data did not include accurate Z values. The Aalborg GIS Department calculated this essential information by interpolating Z values from a laser-scanned digital terrain model and then subtracted the measured depth under terrain. The new Z value is written back to the database with supplemental information about the calculation method and the terrain model used.

Comments Sørensen, "Our network modeling system is able to perform a similar calculation, but doing the job directly in the GIS is far more efficient and the result is documented in the correct manner."

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An example of using the utility data with aerial photography.

Aalborg has also integrated its GIS with its financial system, which provides the city with a spatially enabled assets management tool, allowing a complete overview of the municipality's assets from a geographic perspective. This includes detailing all in-ground infrastructure, such as pipelines and their age, condition, expected life span, and so on.

Sørensen continues, "Sometimes it is necessary to remove existing infrastructure, such as a pipeline, before its anticipated life span is over. Once it is removed, however, the pipe must be accounted for in our financial system. For example, suppose an existing pipe is expected to last for 30 years, but because of urbanization, the city finds it necessary to remove the pipeline after just 10 years. In addition to physically removing the pipeline, it has to be removed from the financial overview so that the municipality can maintain a very precise record of its physical assets. The assets are reflected in the city's tax base and are essential in determining tax rates and projected city revenues."

The department's GIS software installation includes three licenses of ArcSDE (one each for production, for testing purposes, and to manage ArcIMS), Oracle for its database management system, ArcIMS for managing spatial data on the Internet, ArcFM from Miner & Miner for AM/FM applications, the ArcGIS Spatial Analyst extension, and ArcGIS Desktop—ArcInfo, ArcEditor, and ArcView.

Special applications for the ArcGIS suite include object seeking; GIS annual accounts; annotation, plot, map book (operational map applications), and conversion tools; edit tools, especially for the maintenance of the electricity data model; and integration with other platforms, such as the billing and SCADA systems. By integrating its GIS with these enterprise systems, the municipality of Aalborg has not only developed a highly intelligent database but also a network surveillance system that allows supervisors to continually monitor all transactions throughout their system and perform any necessary analysis and control procedures. For example, the real-time SCADA system can determine whether or not a leak it has recorded is critical and requires immediate attention. It then can display the information it has collected in a logical and organized fashion in the GIS so that remedial action can be performed, if necessary. In addition, the network calculation application can accurately predict the future of the network by projecting loads and potential switching using GIS applications.

In the Future

In the near future, contractors will also make use of the GIS system. For example, a request to perform routine maintenance work on a pipeline will be submitted electronically to the municipality. There it will be recorded and analyzed by the system to determine the optimum time period to conduct the work with minimum disruption. Permission to perform the work will either be granted or denied online, which will greatly speed up the project approval process and minimize paperwork. In the event of a construction emergency, the GIS will generate mailing lists of affected residences for immediate notification.

Other departments within the municipality, such as the fire departments, use basemaps generated by the GIS Department for routing purposes, as well as determining the location of water lines. Aalborg's fire departments plan to implement GIS in the future.

Looking forward, the Aalborg GIS Department plans to make greater use of mobile GIS systems with global positioning system capabilities, such as ArcPad. Employees in the field can then have ready access to the municipality's geodatabase for reference and on-the-spot updating. Mobile GIS would also be available to departments requiring immediate locational information for providing emergency services.

Sørensen believes that the use of GIS will expand rapidly in Denmark, due in part to the national cadastre database the national government committed to building almost 15 years ago. The cadastre database is highly detailed, includes aerial photography of the entire country, and is available in multiple resolutions, providing the opportunity for a number of new GIS-based initiatives to be implemented.

Concludes Sørensen, "I believe that with the active support of our national government for spatial technology initiatives and the increasing opportunity for GIS education in our secondary schools and universities, the technology will continue to migrate from GIS applications to strategic problem solving systems that are spatially enabled."

For more information, contact Jens Henrik Sørensen, city of Aalborg (e-mail:

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