Paper, begone! Larvaciding field supervisor Rod Hale (left) no longer sorts through hundreds of maps to develop application schedules or determine treatment efficacy. Instead, he queries a database that's updated daily with information gathered by field crew members, like Tony Parent, who tap in data on a touchscreen PDA. Photo: Ada County Mosquito Abatement District

Back in the office, they plug the handheld computer into a desktop computer and download the information they've captured into the district's Arc-GIS geodatabase. GIS mapping coordinator Jacob Mundt developed application software that then automatically transfers, merges, and updates both the geodatabase as well as the work order, accounting, and billing databases for the county, which has 32 departments in addition to its pest-control operation. Before going back into the field, crew members upload revised maps and GIS layers back to their handheld computer.

Once the data's downloaded and synced with the county's databases, the surveillance coordinator and field supervisors develop a mosquito management plan based on resident complaints of infestations, surveillance data, and field knowledge. Seeing the entire picture at once enables them to prioritize work flows and focus applications in problem areas.

Process + Analysis = Efficiency

Now that the district's “digital era” is in its third year, it's worked out most of the kinks that inevitably arise when paper-based processes are moved into the electronic realm.

“We had modifications upon modifications, but we're approaching finalization,” says Mundt, who was hired in 2006 to coordinate the transition.

Last year, the district added variable-flow pumps to four ultra-low-volume Dyna-Fog LD-30 Foggers, which kill mosquitoes by spraying insecticide from the bed of a pickup truck. The pumps automatically dispense the correct amount of chemical depending on how fast the truck is moving, enabling operators to speed up or slow down as necessary rather than maintain the standard speed of 10 mph to ensure proper coverage.

While the pump is applying chemical, the handheld automatically records attributes such as the date and time; weather conditions; and vehicle speed, position, and velocity. The driver just plugs the unit into the dashboard, clicks on the work order, and the computer starts logging.

This year, the district is mounting a weather-monitoring device on each of its trucks to automatically collect data about wind speed, wind direction, vehicle speed, barometric pressure, relative humidity, and temperature during application into the geodatabase.

To minimize the district's investment in hardware, Bennett replaced some of the more expensive hardware with touchscreen PDAphones priced at $350 each under the state's contract with Verizon Wireless. The district uses the XV6700 by VW, but any touchscreen PDA or PDA phone would work the same.

“We were used to taking paper maps out into the field, so the hardest part of this entire process has been becoming familiar with the handhelds and what they can do,” Bennett says. “But no way would we go back to the old way of doing things.”

Return on investment

As the cost of computer memory decreases, the public sector's investment increases.

Ada County's mosquito abatement district should break even on its $36,000 investment in mobile mapping in about three years. Most of the return comes from the district's larvaciding operation, which employs three full-time and five part-time applicators, a part-time administrative assistant, and one office support person. Source: Jacob Mundt