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Blogs / Professional Fellows Exchange Program / How “Mapping” Runs the City of Auburn, Alabama

How “Mapping” Runs the City of Auburn, Alabama


The day-to-day operations of the City of Auburn (COA) are powered by the so-called geographic information system (GIS). Bearing in mind that the citizens exist in specific parts of the community and that different areas have variable spatial attributes, the city designs place-specific utilities and solutions. The idea is that the people define the place and the people's needs differ based on localities. Therefore, solutions should be spatial and custom.  


In this endeavor, geospatial information-based technologies like GIS proves useful. In the COA, GIS allows for efficient and effective delivery of services: from garbage collection to firefighting to police operations to traffic management. "Map-centric solutions" also provide for the effective management of assets. Fact is, the city has maps for almost everything: sewer lines, water pipes, man holes, traffic lights, powerlines, the footprints of all the houses, and more. The use of GIS to provide for the citizen's needs and conveniences is consistent with the city's mission:  "to provide economical delivery of quality services created and designed in response to the needs of its citizens rather than by habit or tradition." 


GIS in a nutshell


GIS is a way to visualize any kind of information over a map. Although almost always equated to mapping, GIS is more than just maps. And unlike traditional paper maps, GIS offers interactivity wherein the user can control the amount of information that s/he wants to see or unsee. A person can display specific types of information as well as hide those that s/he does not want displayed. All types of data can be treated as if they are layers or individual sheets of paper. Every surface feature can be captured as individual data and presented as a discrete layer.


In GIS, any one can map almost anything as long as it answers the question “where”. Where are all the fire hydrants? How does the network of water lines look like? Where do all the sewer lines end up? Any information that has explicit information about its location is a GIS data. Where does the city get its drinking water from? Which water pipe leads to another? What parts of the city has the most number of traffic incidents? And what can be done about it?


The CITY's centralized GIS program


The COA has about 15 Departments (e.g. planning, public works, water resources, finance) and each has varying levels of usage. Majority of them produce and update own data while some are just beneficiaries of data. All the kinds of GIS data that the city needs to produce could be within the interest of any one of the city departments. Thus, each department has been tasked to create and update its own GIS data while the IT department which houses the GIS Division manages the centralized server for all GIS data.


All the city departments are not experts in GIS except for the data production and updating. The GIS division is the one that does the spatial analysis, safekeeping and storage, and packaging into more useful forms, such as layers for web maps and web apps, both for the consumption of the city staff and the public.




There are two types of web maps / apps that the GIS division maintains: internal and external/public. The internal maps are for exclusive use of authorized city staff while the external maps, generally for viewing, are for public use.


There is a hotline for emergency and non-emergency issues. For fire emergency and reporting of crimes which are both emergency matters, a GIS-based solution is in place. Every phone call comes in with the caller’s details and locational information. Based on the type of reported issue the relevant department is alerted, e.g. fire department, police department. The said department has access to real-time maps that show the live locations of city vehicles (fire trucks, police cars).


Members of the city departments are pre-determined based on specificity of the reported issue and the identified staff is expected to respond, close the work order, and document the overall process.



GIS-BASED AssetS / Work Order Management


If you want to report an uncollected trash, GIS comes to the rescue. An animal carcass that needs to be removed from the road can be reported and geo-located and the city responds accordingly. The city may be alerted for trees that need to be pruned. 


The same procedure in emergency response operations also applies here. The city staff has geolocations of identified areas, before setting out to the field for inspection. The whole process is documented, including the time and resources involved in closing the work order.



Other cool applications of GIS


There is a web map for a specific objective: incident reporting map, water quality monitoring map, asset management map, etc. The GIS Division is in-charge of creating and maintaining the software, as well as feeding all the data and basemaps to the software and/or web maps.


If you have to park and you don't know where, they have a real-time app that shows where the parking areas are, which ones are vacant and which ones are available.


The city does aerial photography every three years with six inches of resolution. All the cities data are published and open to the public. By public, it means even the noncitizens like you and me.




This city has one of the most advanced implementations of GIS in the US, if not the most advanced since I have not seen how the other US cities implement the said technology.


As a practitioner of GIS for some time now, being able to witness all of the au-some applications of GIS in the city of Auburn is a real privilege. But most importantly, the willingness of the city staff to share all of the “trade secrets” is truly an honor.


For this rare opportunity, I would like to thank Mr. Christopher Graff (City GIS Manager) and Mr. James Buston (Chief Information Officer). 

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Management GIS Services