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Winter 2008/2009
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Improved GPS/GIS Data Collection in Cocoa, Florida, Increases Efficiency by 40 Percent

Mapping and Managing Potable Water Infrastructure Assets


  • Staff collected GPS points and edited GIS features in real time in the field.
  • With ArcPad, staff can access their GIS data wherever they drive, and the map moves with them.
  • The process was so efficient that money remained in the budget to continue the inventory for other areas.

The City of Cocoa, located on the east coast of Florida, is one of the largest suppliers of potable water in the state. Not only does the city supply drinking water to its incorporated residents, it also supplies potable water to neighboring communities, including Cocoa Beach, Merritt Island, Rockledge, Titusville, Cape Canaveral, Patrick Air Force Base, and unincorporated Brevard County. That translates into nearly 70,000 customers consuming about 27 million gallons of potable water per day.

Potable water system input from record drawings, before GPS inventory. Note that the distribution line is shown incorrectly on the south side of the road.

Keeping track of such a large utility has presented an ongoing challenge for the city's Utility Department. The Engineering Division, responsible for design and construction, and the Transmission and Distribution (T&D) Division, responsible for operation and maintenance, made the decision back in 2002 to begin mapping and managing the potable water utility using GIS.

The initial phase of mapping the system was accomplished by entering potable water assets into a geodatabase via heads-up digitizing using the city's record drawings as the source. While this was a step in the right direction, the city soon realized that the true physical location of critical assets, such as valves and hydrants, was not represented accurately in the record drawings. Knowing exactly where aboveground potable water assets are is extremely important, especially to T&D staff. Locating valves is essential during a water main break to be able to quickly cut off the flow of water to reduce flooding, water damage, and unnecessary waste. With Cocoa and its neighbors being coastal communities, this is even more challenging, as hurricanes and tropical storms are common. In light of this, Tom Turner, assistant superintendent of T&D, decided to purchase two Trimble GeoXT GPS units and have his staff begin collecting map grade locations of the system's aboveground assets.

Soon after T&D staff began collecting the GPS points, Turner realized that this was going to be a monumental task based on the size of the system and the availability of his staff. Turner decided to expedite the task by recruiting assistance from Cardno TBE, Clearwater, Florida, the city's GIS consultant since 2003. Cardno TBE, an Esri Business Partner, had been perfecting its GPS/GIS field data collection process by using the latest technologies, internal applications, and lessons learned from previous field data collection projects. The City of Cocoa's situation presented the perfect solution to demonstrate its effectiveness.

TBE's process would employ the latest GPS and GIS technology in a cooperative effort with T&D staff to produce a highly efficient and accurate product. TBE would collect GPS points; edit the GIS features in real time in the field; and incorporate assistance from T&D staff for utility locations, system data, and connectivity.

After GPS inventory, aboveground features are accurately located, and the distribution line is now on the north side of the road.

Using a ruggedized laptop computer equipped with ArcGIS ArcInfo and Trimble GPS Analyst software, TBE established a link from the Trimble GeoXT to the laptop via a Bluetooth connection. The GeoXT was also connected to a GeoBeacon for real-time GPS correction. After the features were located and designated by T&D staff, GPS points were collected on the GeoXT and uploaded live to a GPS-enabled geodatabase on the laptop using GPS Analyst field tools. GIS features, entered previously from the city's record drawings, were rectified immediately in the field to the GPS points using ArcInfo editing tools. T&D staff provided their knowledge to assist in system connectivity and data attribute input. A geometric network was incorporated to facilitate the efficient spatial adjustment of GIS features.

By incorporating this process, the city was able to get more value for its investment. The combination of collecting data live in the field and augmenting the editing step with on-the-spot T&D system knowledge allowed the city to acquire more information about its potable water system per dollar than with previous methods. For example, the pilot project for this process was scoped out for all the aboveground potable water system features within the city limits. The process was so efficient that money remained in the budget to continue the inventory for other areas of the system. The number of GIS features rectified using this process increased by nearly 40 percent. These savings have also been passed on to the ongoing additional phases of the inventory project.

An added benefit realized by the city from this process is the incorporation of accurate, mobile maps in T&D field trucks. Supervisor trucks are now equipped with GPS-enabled Panasonic Toughbooks and ArcPad software. Rectified GIS data for the potable water system is uploaded regularly on the Toughbooks. With the automatic tracking functionality of ArcPad, T&D staff are able to access their GIS data wherever they drive, and the map moves with them. Previously, supervisors would drive to a site, search through numerous rolls of record drawings, and try to find room to lay out the appropriate map to diagnose an issue or make a repair. Now, everything is accessed from the Toughbook. Even the record drawings have been scanned and hyperlinked to the GIS features in case staff need more detail.

Ultimately, the GIS data will be integrated with the city's SunGard HTE NaviLine Work Orders/Facility Management software to track complaints and requests, create work orders, manage utilities, and perform job costing functions. Managing such a system is a monumental undertaking, and knowing where your assets are is critical. And in today's economy with budgets being cut, collecting accurate, useful data as efficiently as possible is essential.

More Information

For more information, contact Tom Turner, assistant superintendent, Utilities Department, Transmission and Distribution Division, Cocoa, Florida (e-mail:, tel.: 321-698-9518, Web:, or Rick Bowers, Cardno TBE (e-mail:, toll free: 800-861-8314, tel.: 727-431-1544, Web:

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