High-level officials and members of the public were shown this week how Inyo County’s Geographic Information Systems database has grown by leaps and bounds, and how it can continue to grow to the benefit of residents relying on county services.
Utilizing GIS technology, Inyo County is able to digitally map everything from the location of parcels of land to the placement of each fire hydrant or light pole, faults, flood planes and voting districts. When a complete system of GIS maps is combined, county officials should be able to track everything from crime to traffic trends while also planning for new developments in either the business or residential zones of the county.
GIS Coordinator Jeff Duncan has been working for the past two years to update the county’s GIS database and train local department heads and employees on the use of the digital maps.
Duncan said during his time in Inyo County, he has helped Clerk-Recorder Kammi Foote create a map showing each county voting precinct and Planning Director Josh Hart set up an updated parcel map.
According to Duncan, “every department where the ‘what and where’ of something has importance” can benefit from a user-friendly, up-to-date GIS system.
He said those departments include the Water Department (which was utilizing the technology before Duncan’s arrival in Inyo), the Assessor’s Office, Public Works, Public Safety and Emergency services departments, Health and Human Services and the Roads Department, among others.
Duncan said when he first arrived in Inyo County, he found that very few departments were utilizing GIS technology and there was very little home grown GIS data.
He also said the county’s GIS information was spread across numerous computer servers and Planning was the only department that had an ongoing program for updating and maintaining GIS data.
On the bright side, he said he discovered that Inyo had identified grant funding to update its GIS data and licensing and there was enthusiasm in some departments about being able to utilize GIS.
Utilizing his experience as a GIS coordinator in Portsmouth, Va., Duncan said he got right to work in Inyo County, instituting procedures for gathering data and updating current GIS systems within the county.
“GIS is only as good as the data you have,” Duncan said, pointing out that he has run into roadblocks when updating the county’s system due to minor discrepancies, particularly with regard to street names.
In Bishop, he said there multiple roads that are identified both as a street and avenue. “For the Postal Service, and residents, that’s not an issue, they can get there, but for computers” it is important to have accurate, specific information, Duncan said.
With that in mind, he is currently working with the Planning Department, Roads Department and City of Bishop to verify street names to ensure that the GIS maps are up-to-date.
A contractor, Geographic Technologies Group, is currently working its way through Inyo County checking on physical addresses of residences and businesses to include in the GIS database.
As that basic information begins to come in, Duncan said county departments will be able to begin updating their maps with information that will be useful to their work.
As those maps come together, some departments, such as the Clerk-Recorder’s Office, will be able to post them online for residents.
Other departments that will be utilizing the GIS system, such as the Tax Collector, will keep their GIS information on secured servers, since those offices utilize sensitive information.
Looking to the immediate future, Duncan said he is hoping to help Health and Human Services create a map that identifies the county’s “frail and elderly population,” which could be utilized in emergency situations to help local senior citizen reach shelters or safe locations.
He is also working on an inventory of county road signs that will allow the Road Department to see where old signs that need to be replaced are located, and what signs have already been replaced.
Duncan is also working with the Planning Department and Assessor’s office to update parcel maps that will be used for a new property tax management system.
In the not-too-distant future, Duncan said he will be looking at creating web portals, making GIS maps that are useful to residents as a public resource.
Until that time, he will continue updating county data and ensuring that the information that is already in the system is accurate.