Asset management coordinator Rocky Agbunag uses a Trimble ProXT GPS receiver and a Panasonic Toughbook CF18 tablet PC to collect the point location and associated data on an inlet in a St. Johns County neighborhood. A Trimble GeoBeacon, about midway up the GPS pole, enables in-the-field data processing. Photo: St. Johns County, Fla.
Construction of the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, N.C., includes daily lane closures and road realignments. The city developed GeoCLEAR (inset) to interface with the GIS centerline database and display the most accurate and current street-related events, symbolized by type and status. Photos: City of Charlotte, N.C.

“Your proverbial nightmare.” That's what Horry County, S.C., assistant information technology (IT)/GIS director Tim Oliver calls the multiple centerline databases that served Myrtle Beach during the late 1990s and early 2000s.

The county and five cities maintained their own databases, each with entirely different information. The mismatched data made it difficult to coordinate intergovernmental emergency response and cleanup efforts during hurricanes and other catastrophes.

“Not one of these agreed with another,” says Oliver. “Something had to change.”

Change came in 2004 as part of a new GIS division. The first order of business: create a single, integrated system.

Meanwhile, Horry County's public safety director Paul Whitten called attention to a need for intergovernmental public safety services. This required highly accurate data, hefty computing power, and a high-speed, fiber-optic communications network.

With the support of county council members, the county's IT manager, Sheila Butler, teamed with Oliver and Whitten to create an information management system that crosses departments and jurisdictions. It was deployed in three phases:

  • Enable all county departments to access common asset datasets
  • Combine and share data across geopolitical borders with nearby cities
  • Enable the public to access applicable data via the Internet.

The county contracted to have the fiber-optic infrastructure installed; the $7.5 million project was funded through a host-tipping fee at the county-owned landfill. But one of the most crucial undertakings was to design and configure a data repository and server network. The solution was to go GIS-centric.

A GIS-centric database or software product is centered on a geodatabase rather than merely connected to it, providing a standardized reporting environment for users throughout an enterprise. The county chose Environmental Systems Research Institute's (ESRI) ARCGIS and ArcSDE software. WIth this, public entities within the county can access a single data source for countywide datasets such as streets, parcels, site address points, buildings, hydrology, and imagery. Jurisdiction-specific datasets of common interest—such as zoning, land use, valuation, and permitting—are maintained in common datasets but edited by the responsible jurisdiction via the shared network.

“This means no more data residing in individual, inaccessible ‘silos,'” says Oliver.

After completing the enterprise database and geodatabase design, county and city data updates began in earnest. North Myrtle Beach was the first city to join, providing updated data to the county and accessing the shared network for assessment, licensing, and taxation information.

The five cities' street centerline databases were merged into one and updated in 2004 and 2005. In 2006, engineering consultant Woolpert Inc. built the asset and work-order system using Azteca System Inc.'s Cityworks software. Interactive Web viewing tools were built based on ESRI ArcGIS, ArcIMS, and ArcServer software. IT staff are in the process of deploying Cityworks to all county departments.

Today, the shared database is used to generate work orders plus track traffic accidents and work vehicles via automatic locator technology. Motorola software is used for E911: Authorized users can remotely access data tied to an address while en route to a call. Plus, crew members use PDAs in the field to input damage assessments in the wake of natural disasters.