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Roads, sewer systems, water mains—these aren't the most glamorous aspects of local government but this infrastructure—planned, built, and maintained by the engineering and public works departments—holds communities together and makes them flourish. Without the work of these departments, not only would streets not get swept, they wouldn't get paved or engineered. Engineering designs and tests infrastructure elements while public works constructs and manages that infrastructure. Working together, they keep communities safe and attractive and supply the amenities that we all take for granted.

GIS Helps Keep Communities Thriving

To help fulfill this demanding mission, engineering and public works departments have been using GIS for years. Often they were the first to recognize the benefits of GIS for streamlining processes, improving project management, and providing support for better decisions. The array of GIS applications used by these departments actually represents a microcosm of GIS use by the larger enterprise system of local government.

In fact, the engineering and public works departments create the foundation for enterprise GIS through defining and maintaining the cadastral and street network layers-layers that are used by every other department in local government. The engineering department builds the legal definition of a parcel before the assessor assigns it a parcel number or a planner determines its use. And because data defining the parcel fabric is kept in a GIS rather than a drawing, it can immediately be shared and used by other departments. GIS provides the framework for integrating data from legacy systems such as CAD drawings and new data in a variety of formats from GPS coordinates to raster images to video clips, in addition to the more familiar vector data.

ArcGIS has made not only land records maintenance but all spatial data editing faster and more powerful with an array of data creation and spatial editing tools. The implementation of topology in ArcGIS coupled with support for versioning and disconnected editing gives organizations more flexibility and permits a less restrictive work flow. The introduction of ArcGIS Survey Analyst allows management of survey data directly in a geodatabase and can be used to incrementally enhance the accuracy of all spatial data.

Spatial data is used for a variety of public works tasks. The circulation element designed by engineering determines where street medians will be located, and the information on median locations is fed into the GIS application that routes the workers who maintain these medians. GIS helps local governments protect communities against hazardous conditions. Engineering departments safeguard communities by testing underground water supplies. Modeling data describing the occurrence of contaminants and relating that information to the location of industries can be used to identify the source of pollution and aid in mitigation efforts. This ability to repurpose data throughout an organization produces a tremendous return on an investment in GIS.

The benefits of accurate spatial data created by engineering and public works and kept in a GIS ripple through all the departments of a local government. Though far less dramatic than the fire or police components, the contributions that GIS in public works makes to homeland security are just as important. Safeguarding infrastructure is a crucial aspect of homeland security. The data for vulnerability analysis comes from the engineering and public works departments as does the data on the street network that will be used to route responders to the scene of an incident.

Repurposing data and generating new information extends beyond the enterprisewide GIS because Esri supports both interoperability and open standards. Esri software is not only scalable across the enterprise but it also works in the larger IT environment. Data kept in a GIS can be accessed either from the field using portable devices and wireless technology or over the Internet. Through dedicated GIS-based applications or by incorporated ArcWeb Services in Web application, spatial data and GIS functionality can be made widely available.

The articles in this section highlight just a few examples of the many ways that hundreds of engineering and public works departments are using GIS to operate more efficiently, provide better service, and improve communications not only within the department but also throughout the organization and with the public.

To help infrastructure managers learn more about the benefits of GIS, Esri, in conjunction with Hewlett-Packard, Tele Atlas/TomTom, and RouteSmart Technologies, Inc., will be sponsoring a series of public works seminars. Beginning in January 2003, these seminars will be held in cities across the United States. Attendees will see strategies for adopting or expanding GIS use, examples of Esri business partner solutions, and presentations by other users. Visit to register for a seminar session.

For additional information on GIS use for public works, contact

Christopher Thomas
Esri Local Government Industry Solutions Manager
Rob Della Marna

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