Viewpoints

Integrated systems: How GIS, ECM and other solutions create a complete picture

By Tim Oliver

In local government, there are two kinds of data, spatial and administrative. Horry County considers an integrated Esri GIS system to be mission critical. Everything that we do is defined by geography and content - public safety, 911 dispatch, the assessment process and building permits. The economic and financial future of the county is maintained and understood by the contextual connection of content and geography.

Since the integrated system is the county’s main application for county services, any edits made to one of the 250,000 parcels of land require a 24-hour turnaround. This is critical to providing services because if the data is incorrect in Esri, the assessment process can't begin, building permits can't be issued, and 911 calls can't be dispatched. Keeping this data up to date is not only important for the public but for several other county departments as well.

Our tax assessor conducts an annual reassessment to analyze parcel data with delinquent tax and foreclosure data to see if the trends between delinquent tax and foreclosures carry on to property values for next year. This impacts the revenues for the county, so it's critical that the assessor's staff can use the system and also the content within the OnBase enterprise content management (ECM) solution.

We also use the system to help prepare for hurricanes. With three and a half million visitors annually, residents and visitors need to know what to do if an evacuation order is issued. The integrated application helps determine whether or not they're in an evacuation zone, which route they're required to take out of town, or if need be, which shelter is the closest to their location.

To better manage more the 1,200 square miles of Horry County, 43 fire stations and more than 400 career and volunteer fire fighters, the fire chief ordered 43 iPads, one for each station, to access all of the information they would need when responding to a call. For example, from within the GIS system, firefighters can access building plans and relevant information about the business or building that would effectively and safely put out the fire. All of the fire fighters also downloaded the GIS app on their personal smartphone device, which enabled them to access active 911 calls and the preplan information.

For them, it's important that not only do they have the incident information at hand, but more importantly what are they going to be faced when they get there? Are there hazardous materials? Are there building floor plans that they need access to? What does the site look like? It's critical that GIS work for them as first responders as they look after the public safety for Horry County.

These systems have changed the way we respond to emergencies. In 2009, a forest fire burned 20,000 acres and destroyed 70 homes. In 2013, the Windsor Green fire destroyed 26 homes - 26 buildings consisting of 110 condominiums. The ECM and GIS response was entirely mobile and web based. Within 30 minutes after arriving on-site, damage assessments were completed using the iPad application and real-time updates were made to the ECM web application, showing the assessed values the damaged structures, and photos associated with those buildings. An integrated GIS system is the only way we can provide first responders and decision makers with the information that they need.

There are three things that are affecting the direction that Horry County is moving. They are mobility, big data, and regional projects requiring the local government information model to manage incidents. Based on its incident type and its location, I'm provided with traffic cameras and other associated information. But what's more important about this application is it's not just dots on a map, I'm provided with additional information from OnBase, providing first responders with the information they need before they arrive on scene.

If it had been a commercial structure fire, hazardous materials, hospitals, day cares, and nursing homes would display. If it's a school bomb threat, the floor plans of the schools would be available for first responders.

There are two things that make an integrated ECM/GIS system work. First, the philosophy that GIS is the only option. We have to demonstrate the value of GIS to our end users and make it work for them. Secondly, it's the people. We've had a saying on our hallway walls now for several years that I think really makes Horry what it is. It says, ‘it's not a job, it's a mission carried out by people with fire in their eyes.’

Tim Oliver has over 21 years experience in local government, and currently acts as the GIO Assistant CIO for Horry County, S.C. All line of business applications (deployment, ongoing support, web development and GIS) are under his direction.

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What's Viewpoints?

It features the Editor's Viewpoints and contributed commentaries.

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Derek Prall

Derek Prall is a professional journalist who has held numerous positions with a variety of print and online publications including The Public Manager magazine and the New Jersey Herald. He is a 2008...

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Jason Axelrod is an award-winning journalist who has reported for The Seattle Times, The Arizona Republic, the Phoenix Business Journal and Mother Nature Network, among other outlets. Jason...
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