Driving in the Skies to Find the Data

ARTICLE | Aug 30, 2018
by Kirsten Morgan, CIty of Glendale, AZ
DJI Phantom 4 PRO+ Drone with 1080p Display, 20MP camera and hard-shell case.
DJI Phantom 4 PRO+ Drone with 1080p Display, 20MP camera and hard-shell case. City of Glendale, AZ

With the increased focus on leveraging data to drive decisions and achieve results, municipalities are looking to technology for low cost ways to provide accurate information to both gain insights and identify solutions. The City of Glendale, Arizona is no stranger to this phenomenon and is using Alliance for Innovation resources to accomplish this. The city includes as part of its membership, the Alliance webinar subscription which provides employees access to a significant number of quick one-hour webinars spanning a variety of topics and disciplines. This enables the organization to strategically promote webinar content to departments and to gather employees for “viewing parties” and learn from other communities while fostering dialogue about how key concepts could be applied in our community or operations. As a result, the Alliance webinar resources have done three things for the organization – created an investment in employee development, emphasized the organizational value of learning, and generated actionable ideas and opportunities for improving operations.

One example of this success came from a parks and recreation employee who was invited to participate in a webinar viewing where a community was highlighting the use of drones for building safety inspections and permitting. The parks and recreation department was dealing with the “new norm” of reduced staffing resources without reducing service levels; and continuing to manage resident expectations. The webinar was thorough and demonstrated how drones could cover more area, with fewer staff resources, while capturing high quality photos and videos.  This simple invitation to watch a webinar ignited an idea to solve a critical problem. The department was facing inadequate manpower to comprehensively monitor its extensive network of parks, facilities, and specifically its trail system located in a mountainous conservation park. To make matters worse, when it came time to request resource allocation, it was difficult to clearly demonstrate why they needed additional parks maintenance resources. The idea – why not deploy drones as a force multiplier?

The feasibility of utilizing drones in the Parks Division was supported by examples from private contractors that had recently provided aerial photos and videos of work completed on sports facilities depicting before and after images. In addition, the department was relying on written reports from staff that were required to complete timely thorough inspections of all the parks, facilities and trails as they could no longer rely on outdated GIS images to pinpoint irrigation issues, wear and tear concerns, or make turf and tree inspections. After conducting some due diligence, staff felt that with a drone and appropriate training, a certified staff member operator could make monthly rounds and capture aerial images of the over 2,100 acres of parks, conservation and retention areas, 40 miles of walking/biking trails and 96 community facilities saving a significant amount of staff time and resources while creating a database of images.  The images could then be compared over time to identify issues, concerns, and needs. More importantly, staff knew that decisions regarding resource allocation should be data-driven; the use of drones would create the ability to gather, store, and analyze data to support recommendations related to budget needs for maintenance, irrigation, or staffing/equipment.

To pilot the project, the city’s Vice Mayor is sponsoring the initial investment in equipment and training from district funds. The parks and recreation employees, director, and the Vice Mayor are all very excited about using the data gathered from the drone technology to aid in resource allocation during the next budget process. All because an actively engaged employee was invited to attend a webinar to hear about what other cities were doing and they had the courage to champion replication, connect a resource with the need, and keep the dialogue going. The power of community in building communities cannot be overstated. Thank you to the community of contributors that participate in the Alliance for Innovation!

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