An aerial of All American Park overlaid with the base layer and assets. Seeing base layers and assets this way helps field crews visualize what they're looking at. It's easier to see where an asset resides when you can look at the base layer over the aerial. Image: Joel Hillhouse
Esri ArcPad screen showing a drop-down box for park asset points. Giving field collectors a list of assets to choose from minimizes the potential for data entry errors and speeds up quality control back in the office. Image: Joel Hillhouse

By Jim Baumann


OWNER: Las Vegas Department of Operations and Maintenance
PROJECT: Enable field crews to immediately see if data's already been collected
NUMBER OF ASSETS: 76 parks; 14,553 trees; 4,002 asset points
MADE POSSIBLE BY: 2009 Esri/Trimble Navigation Ltd. Mobile Government Demonstration Grant Program

Like all government employees, Las Vegas GIS Analyst Joel Hillhouse wants to make the most of shrinking city coffers by eliminating redundancies whenever and wherever possible. While the Department of Operations and Maintenance has used Esri's ArcGIS software for many years, a separate maintenance management system had been implemented to collect and manage the assets within parks and related facilities.

The drawbacks to this setup were substantial.

Even though field crews could collect data with their Juno STs — a Trimble Navigation Ltd. non-rugged GPS receiver that provides 2- to 5-meter positioning — they had no way of knowing if it had already been recorded because there wasn't an underlying base map or link back to the system.

In addition, the department was spending money to process that data. It was necessary to send field data to the company that developed the system, which took three to four days and cost $79 for each batch. Depending on acreage, the company also charged $100 to $500 to create a database and digitize the base layers for every park, as well as a $250 set-up fee.

“While the handheld device confirmed data had been collected, it didn't show where you were or if the points had been collected before,” says Hillhouse. “Basically, we were collecting the data blind. As a result, some points were unintentionally collected several times and others not at all.”

In 2009, he began developing and deploying a replacement by applying for a 2009 Esri/Trimble Navigation Ltd. Mobile Government Demonstration Grant. He wanted something that would be fully compatible with the city's existing ArcGIS enterprise system so Department of Operations and Maintenance employees could easily access and see park-related data collected by other departments, not just their own. As one of 20 recipients that year, his department received a Trimble Juno and a license for ArcPad 8 software that he's since upgraded to ArcPad 10.

Based on Esri's ArcPad software, the Park Asset Data Collection and Data Conversion Program (ParkPAD) has greatly improved the ability to collect and manage assets. Field crews now see a digitized image of an asset that shows whether data's already been collected. Getting data in and out of the system is quick and easy, and updates are performed in near real time from the field.

The software is being used on a local install, not on the server. Although it was free as part of the grant, the Information Technologies Department pays a $250 annual maintenance agreement fee.

Part of an enterprise GIS solution that integrates directly with Esri's desktop and server products, ArcPad has been updated several times since its debut in 2000. In addition to Las Vegas, Seattle uses the software to maintain a citywide inventory of sidewalks and curb ramps. The City of Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation recouped more than 200 hours of productivity per week in solid resources collection. U.S. Census Bureau field teams customized the software to capture and update geographic information during their 2010 census efforts.

The Las Vegas Parks and Open Spaces Division is working with the city's Information Technologies Department to finish digitizing the base layers for all parks, landscaped areas, trails, medians, school landscaping, and sports fields. These new layers will make it easier to collect and track the number, location, and condition of assets such as playgrounds, shade structures, drinking fountains, picnic areas, and benches.

This new data will be included in the city's enterprise GIS so it's available to other departments. Some maintain their own datasets for park assets, and there are discrepancies between them. Using a single dataset is particularly useful for the Department of Operations and Maintenance, which maintains the parks, and the Department of Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services, which schedules outdoor events, manages sports fields, and manages the use of picnic and other recreation areas.

The new database has produced immediate savings as well.

Las Vegas is in the Mojave Desert, where conservation is very important. The vegetation layers are used to determine the square footage of each park so the correct amount of seed, fertilizers, and herbicides can be calculated and purchased. In a related project, the data from an earlier tree study was added so parks maintenance staff could determine water usage requirements for each tree based on species, size, location, and so on.

In the project's next stage, an irrigation layer will be created to include irrigation clocks, stations, valves, and controls. This will enable repair crews to quickly locate equipment when there's a break in the water main or if a valve becomes inoperable.

“Our use of GIS continues to grow,” Hillhouse says. “In the near future, we'll be posting our parks data on the city Web site for residents and visitors so they can find information and make reservations for a specific site using an interactive park finder.”

Though he hasn't quantified how much the effort has saved the city, he says “we save many hours of work each week based on the work that has already been done. As we move forward with the project, we anticipate even more savings.”

In the meantime, he has some advice.

“Upon initial acquisition of the equipment and database set-up, it's tempting to put in every item. It can get overwhelming. Decrease the number of item types by classifying items so they can be used several different ways.

“Make sure to check out all of the options available, too. While ArcPad was the right product for us, it may not be the best for your operation.”

—Baumann ( is a writer for Esri in Redlands, Calif.


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