Launch Slideshow

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A bird's eye view

A bird's eye view

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    Pictures a snap

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    This QuickBird satellite image—at a scale of 1:2500—shows Sullivan Gulch and the south tip of the Oregon Convention Center in Portland. The Burnside Bridge is crossing the Willamette River. Photo: GCS Research.

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    Users can retrieve detailed information by overlaying GIS data on an aerial image. This screen capture shows sewer, stormwater, and water information overlaid on the aerial shot. Photo: RA Smith

For more advanced agencies, the information can keep tax records up-to-date, verify building permits, or establish the user fee for a stormwater utility. “In these cases, the return is generally many times the investment,” says Jeff Liedtke, COO of eMap International in Longmont, Colo.

Finally, agencies that incorporate this aerial imagery and its associated data with emergency management operations will see the payoff as priceless in lives saved.

WHO NEEDS IT?

After collecting aerial images, the next step most municipalities take is to overlay their GIS data onto them. The aerial image is used as a base map, or first layer, to show basic structural information.

Public works departments use a combination of tools, including global positioning systems, to gather information on things like manhole locations, tree location and species, pipe routes and diameter, and street centerlines. Once the location, age, and value of assets are cataloged, the city has a database it can use for budgeting, operations and maintenance schedules, or to monitor depreciation (for GASB 34 compliance, for example).

Unfortunately, not many municipalities have set aside money specifically for such GIS work. “About 15% to 20% of municipalities have a GIS budget, which may cover [the salary of] a coordinator and the GIS work,” says Brian Dubis, GIS project manager with RA Smith & Associates, a consulting firm in Brookfield, Wis.

To get around this obstacle, he suggests, consider adding GIS into the cost of a larger, single project that benefits the entire community. This approach works especially well if you don't have a separate line item for GIS.

Once GIS resources are in place, the annual cost is not as prohibitive as the initial set-up.

“A city of less than 50,000 people should budget $20,000 to $30,000 per year for GIS,” says Dubis. This may include updates to the system, new photography for a growing area, or other related costs.