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Credit: Photo: Iredell County, N.C.

A GIS staff member from Iredell County, N.C., collects data in the field with ESRI's ArcPad software and a Trimble handheld device.
From CAD to GIS

A crash course on the merits of GIS.

About six years ago, Anaheim, Calif.'s Public Utilities Department began using a geographic information system (GIS) simply as a way to replace its CAD inventory-mapping system.

Under the CAD system, too many different map books were maintained within the electric and water utility, says Jason Kornoff, the department's electric GIS steward. Because GIS allowed information to be integrated into one comprehensive map, sharing data among work groups became easier, and unnecessary work and overlapping data was minimized.

The department now uses GIS to track all electric- and telecommunications-related items. The system helps the publicly owned utility expand the available knowledge of its electrical system to stakeholders, keep all major data resources consistent, and automate and reduce the turnaround for inventory map updates. “We can also make pretty maps,” says Kornoff.

Like Anaheim's electric and water utility, public works departments nationwide must digest a vast amount of information about the communities they serve. Almost all of this information is in some way tied to a geographic element such as an address. With GIS, you can link information or assets to location data, such as buildings to addresses or sewer pipes to streets, and then layer that information on a map.

This is where GIS can simplify tasks: Do you want to know how much forest is in each watershed? Or how many service requests were made in a neighborhood during last week's storm?

Use your GIS tools. They can generate geographic databases (geodatabases), as well as geographic datasets in the form of tables and charts, so public works departments can analyze data and better serve their communities. — Victoria K. Sicaras