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Winter 2006/2007
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Dearborn, Michigan, Discovers That Geography Is the Common Thread

Student Interns Partner with City to Launch Groundbreaking GIS Project

  click to enlarge
This map shows the complex components that interact in the City of Dearborn's water delivery system. Student interns working for the city learned the power of GPS and GIS while compiling and verifying much of the data on the city's more than 35,000 water customers.

Dearborn, Michigan, is nestled between metropolitan Detroit and the surrounding suburbs. Settled in 1786, Dearborn has grown from a small village to a densely settled, complex city with a population nearing 100,000 residents. As home to the Ford Motor Company and a variety of large and small industries and commercial developments, the 24-square-mile city is fully developed with 615 miles of roads, 656 miles of sewers, and 451 miles of water lines connecting more than 35,000 parcels of land.

As one of the people responsible for the city's information management system, the newly appointed GIS administrator for Dearborn, Sue Katsiyiannis, dealt daily with the data needs of all departments within the city. But she had a problem. Each of these departments—from public works to parks, assessors to code enforcement, zoning to public safety—operated according to its own procedures, using unique datasets.

In trying to do her job, Katsiyiannis was forced to deal with a haphazard array of paper records, assorted spreadsheets and databases, and electronic data from a variety of sources. Though, at the time, the city had already begun the process of switching to GIS by hiring a consultant who set up the initial data layers for the project, unfortunately, even with this GIS data readily available, most city departments continued to rely on existing data sources.

But Katsiyiannis also had a vision and a solution. She realized that a single unified GIS could be established to let these diverse users not only access their own data but also share data with other departments.

The good news was that the consultant had delivered five shapefile layers (parcels, lots, roads, sewers, and water lines) with associated database entries, along with an ArcView license for the city. In addition, the city had access to a variety of satellite and aerial imagery.

However, Katsiyiannis lacked the manpower necessary to initiate a project of this magnitude.

Solving the Manpower Problem

Then Katsiyiannis met local high school teacher John Bayerl of Dearborn Public Schools' Michael Berry Career Center.

Bayerl was teaching a course based on Spatial Technology and Remote Sensing (STARS), a complete turnkey GIS curriculum and certification program developed by Esri Business Partner Digital Quest (Jackson, Mississippi). It was when Bayerl's students were presenting a GIS project to an invited audience as part of their semester exams that he and Katsiyiannis met. As it happened, Bayerl was looking to prepare his students for high-tech jobs, while Katsiyiannis needed skilled GIS personnel to help with her project.


The City of Dearborn is well on its way to achieving its goal of converting all utility data into usable electronic format—thanks to a handful of hardworking interns!

It was about then that Jim Taylor, assistant superintendent of Dearborn's Water Department, became committed to using all the technology available to help solve a nagging problem with low water flow to parts of the city. Taylor and Katsiyiannis called up the parcel and water account data and tried to make sense of what they saw. Convinced that geography was the only common thread that ran throughout both datasets, Katsiyiannis needed to bring the two datasets together and acquired ArcInfo to do the job. The only problem was, with more than 35,000 accounts, the sheer volume of data that needed to be created, entered, or verified was staggering.

Taylor and Katsiyiannis lobbied hard and were able to convince the city to hire four GIS interns to work on the project during the summer. In a competitive interview process, three of Bayerl's high school students, as well as a senior from the local university, were hired to link the two datasets together. Bayerl was also hired to help coordinate the project and lend his field expertise to the interns.

Brass Tacks

During the seven and one-half week project, interns took turns between working in the office and collecting data in the field. While working indoors, the interns entered water account data from "tap cards" into a database. These cards contained account, address, tap location, tap size, pipe material (copper, steel, or lead), and installation date information. While each account was associated with a billing address, the actual parcel to which each account belonged and the water main that served the parcel were not included. To add these attributes, the interns had to query a GIS map in ArcReader, which contained the parcels, water mains, aerial imagery, and geocoded addresses. Since the interns could see which parcel the address matched and also which water main was adjacent, they could then perform a simple query and cut and paste the appropriate information into the database. Armed with this complete set of data, the Water Department was able to compare flow readings for the water mains with consumption records from each parcel.

Each day, two interns spent time collecting and verifying data in the field. As they walked up and down neighborhood streets, one intern used a Tablet PC running both the database in Excel and the utility/parcel map in ArcReader to verify the address, parcel ID, and written tap location. The second intern had to both physically locate the stop box (a valve used to turn water on/off to a residence) and collect x,y,z coordinates using a GPS unit. This location data was then imported into ArcGIS as a point layer, allowing Katsiyiannis to physically connect the water mains to the stop boxes (i.e., to each account) and therefore to the consumption data. While this may seem easy, each intern working inside routinely entered more than 300 tap cards into the database each day, while those working outside collected and verified data on 300 to 400 houses, walking six to seven miles each day!

While efforts to solve the low water flow problem are continuing, this work by interns is helping focus repair and maintenance efforts. Bayerl says, "I expect that the intern program and the GIS student/city partnership will live on for many years and spread to many other city departments."

More Information

For more information, contact Sue Katsiyiannis, City of Dearborn (tel.: 313-943-2108, e-mail:, or John Bayerl, Dearborn Public Schools (tel.: 313-827-4800, e-mail:

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