Keep your eye on the big picture. That's the advice Fontana, Calif., GIS Administrator Joseph Field offers for GIS application development and data management.

“You need to consider how“ even a small project can impact the whole enterprise,” he says.

The city invested in GIS in 2002 to manage its largest and most valuable asset—the sewer system—and since then, the Public Works Department has deployed GIS-based applications to better manage infrastructure and satisfy federal requirements. To facilitate data sharing citywide, all assets, address points, and parcels are given a unique identification number in the city's geodatabase. This makes it easier for one city department to integrate another's data into a GIS application or project for the city of 190,000.

“I can manage my own data in the yard and not worry about what anyone else is doing,” explains Rogelio Matta, senior administrative analyst for public works. “But when we want to link sewer billing data to our sewer lateral line data, the capability is there because we have connectivity through a parcel I.D.”

To do this, all city departments ensure key data components are verified and entered correctly in GIS. For example, being able to track pavement conditions is more important to public works than having accurate address data. But public works collects address data in the field so, for instance, the police department can use public works' street center-line data in its dispatching system.

“The idea is to make sure you think about the whole picture, because the data you're using will eventually be useful to another part of the organization,” Field says.


Public works uses GIS to view maps and maintenance history of the sewer network, determine pipes that need to be repaired or replaced, and assess the progress of work orders. Employees click on a section of pipe to see video and photos of the inside of 375 miles of main lines.

More importantly for Matta, if he wants to verify the sewer connections and confirm that the city is collecting sewer service charges for each connection, he links the lateral connections in his department's sewer system geodatabase with the Management Services Department's utility billing database.

City staff recently built the utility billing database using the unique I.D. for each address and parcel. Since the sewer system geodatabase associates lateral connections to the same unique parcel I.D. numbers, the two databases are linked with the unique I.D. of the parcels serving as the common thread. For parcels with multiple addresses and sewer connections, the unique I.D.s of the address point are used. The city uses ESRI's ArcSDE technology to store data, ArcGIS Desktop to analyze the data, and ArcGIS Server to deliver applications online.

“We're taking two separate systems that have no reason to be linked, and linking them to make some determinations,” says Matta. “We're identifying residents who are connected to the sewer line but for some reason aren't being billed. Because of the integration of the geodatabase with the sewer billing system, we can verify that we are in fact collecting the appropriate rate for a home—something we were unable to do before.”

So far, the city's Information Technology GIS department has found more than 600 homes out of 50,000 with sewer connections that weren't being billed for sewage treatment services, representing as much as an additional $150,000 in annual revenue for the city.


Public works also uses geospatial technology to meet new Federal Highway Administration(FHWA)requirements via a GIS-enabled asset management system from GBA Masters Series Inc.

Updates to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) this year established minimum retroreflectivity levels for traffic signs. By January 2012, public works agencies must have established and implemented an assessment or management methodology that will ensure regulatory, warning, and ground-mounted guide signs can meet the minimum retroreflectivity level requirements to become effective Jan. 1, 2015.

To get a head start on meeting the requirement, Fontana's public works crews are logging the location and reflectivity level of 2,000 stop signs using handheld GPS-enabled “guns.” With one click, the RetroSign GR3 retro-reflectometer collects the orientation, location, material type, condition, and reflectivity of each sign, which has been assigned a record number that corresponds to the same record number in the GBA database. Crews upload the information into the database on a Panasonic notebook computer.

“This has vastly improved our ability to manage our signs,” says Matta. “For example, since we record the date a new sign is installed, we can quickly determine when its 10-year life expectancy will end. If we have to replace it before then, it becomes the manufacturer's responsibility.”

To create records for a new sign in the field, crews remotely reference data—such as the record number, location, and orientation—of existing signs nearby. Uploading information from the field allows the department to retain information that's not traditionally documented.

“Institutional knowledge is one of the big things for us—and how we convey that knowledge is through these databases,” Matta says. “We don't just want to know as top sign's there; we want to know what the crew that's working with it knows.”


Fontana developed its GIS with the goal of creating a stable and expandable system. In addition to sewer and sign inventory and street centerline data, public works uses the system to manage landscape and park area data. Next it will inventory storm drains.

“All of this data is displayed on a map so I can see that a street set for repair is next to a street that needs renovations and nearby another street that needs to be replaced,” Matta says. “I can quickly determine the cost of that work and any other segments of road in the area that should be included. That's very hard to do when you're not in a GIS environment.

“In terms of managing infrastructure, a GIS environment is probably the most cost-effective way even though there is an initial cost of setting it up and maintaining it. GIS has given us the ability to make decisions at a very high level without having to do a huge amount of analysis and field work every time we want to make one decision.”

— Vines is editor of Redlands, Calif.-based Environmental Systems Research Institute's Government Matters and Federal GIS Connections newsletters.