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March 2003: GEO World


From field operations to back-office procedures, Altamonte Springs, Fla., is reaping the benefits of a new GIS.

Florida's Altamonte Springs, population 43,000, is located in Seminole County, about 10 miles north of Orlando. The city had accumulated more than 4,500 sheets of record drawings (construction plans, "as-built" plans, original design plans, etc.) dating from 1963 to the present—a huge amount of data that needed to be centralized and better organized.

In addition, the city wanted to tap into the cumulative knowledge of many employees who had been there for 15, 20 and, in one instance, 31 years. Should those long-term employees leave, their knowledge would go out the door with them.

The solution was a GIS implemented by Berryman & Henigar. The entire system won't be in place for another 12-18 months, but the first phase is operational and already has resulted in several significant improvements.

One of the city's objectives was to use as much off-the-shelf software as possible, because it would be too costly to customize solutions. The city selected a standardized ESRI Inc. GIS suite (ArcGIS Version 8.2). A key to the decision was the product's open database architecture, which allowed the city to easily reference existing data in other software platforms.

System Benefits

Major elements of the first phase include a comprehensive map and database of the city's infrastructure. The database was built using coordinate geometry, and it will be linked to the county property appraiser's office.

The benefits and advantages of such a system are numerous:

Record drawings can be directly linked to GIS. Eventually such drawings also will be linked to facility management software. If someone is looking at a pipe on the map and wants to see the relevant construction drawing, he or she can hyperlink right to it. Detailed drawings can be linked to a lift station or a plant that would show the mechanical and electrical components of that particular facility.

Maps can be digitally overlaid. For example, the city recently ordered flood plain digital maps from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and overlaid them directly onto a storm water system map to see how they interrelate. City engineers can quickly determine if any improvements or modifications need to be addressed.

Zoning and land-use maps also can be overlaid. Such capability is invaluable when doing systems planning and demand analysis. When determining future development trends in an area, for example, it's necessary to establish what the demand will be on the system. This task is done through land-use and zoning projections. Once the future population densities are calculated, future demand can be projected. In addition, the GIS can be used for aerial photographs that depict ground features; they can be overlaid with the system to show what structures exist that may affect system maintenance.

Field operations are more precise and efficient. The city, like many utilities, experiences line breaks in critical locations. In one case, it took city forces an extended period to shut down a line. Such a delay could lead to a potential liability for the city (a sewer force main break, for instance, could discharge hundreds of thousands of gallons of untreated sewage within minutes). Now, with the GIS, a network-tracing feature allows users to determine the location of a break and trace the line to the nearest valve(s) that needs to be closed to shut off the water flow. In fact, the system is so flexible that if the city knows a particular valve is inoperable, jammed or for some reason can't be turned, the tracing feature will immediately ignore the valve and find the closest operable valve.

The GIS also facilitates important analyses such as inflow/infiltration studies of gravity sewer systems. Having trace capabilities to trace upstream and downstream is useful when conducting an inflow/infiltration study. Prior to doing the study, the GIS can trace upstream along the gravity sewer system and determine which customers will be affected by the study. Such an approach provides the city with the ability to notify residents in advance by mail. This capability is critical, because smoke is injected into the gravity sewer systems as part of the study, and residents may become alarmed if they saw smoke coming up out of the ground.

Instant analysis of force mains. There are approximately100 lift stations in the city. Altamonte Springs is setting up a series of interconnects and bypasses so no major line can go out of service without being bypassed. Without the digital map, it would cost literally tens of thousands of dollars and countless hours to conduct this type of detailed analysis.

Helps satisfy government requirements. The Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) sets financial reporting rules for all state and local governments. In 1999, it established a new framework for the financial reports of state and local governments, the biggest single change in the history of governmental accounting. GASB 34 requires that public agencies report on all capital assets. These include roads, bridges, tunnels, drainage systems, water and sewer systems, dams and lighting systems. Normally, capital assets, including infrastructure, must be depreciated. Governments, however, may replace the requirement to depreciate infrastructure assets by promising to maintain them at a condition level predetermined by the government.

With the new database, asset management is quicker and more accurate, because the city can now build historical cost models. The database also helps bridge any gaps between accounting and public works information that goes back and forth. For example, the database has enabled the city to get a good handle on cost and conditions for water, sewer and reclaimed water utilities.

Work order management. The city plans to eventually integrate a work order management system with the GIS. A work order management system is used to generate any type of work order (e.g., work orders for servicing new customers and/or maintaining the existing system). Work orders usually are issued for construction and maintenance activities. Once both systems are integrated, the city will be able to make accurate analyses based on historical work order data to determine maintenance trends. Such information will help with budget forecasting and when implementing capital improvement plans.

Implementation of offsite extension policies and user connection fees. The GIS will facilitate the analysis necessary to calculate connection charges for both water and sewer customers, particularly if the city implements a master lift station sharing fee (such fees are charged to developers wanting to connect to the sewer system). Now the city has the ability to bill developers for their proportionate share of the lift station. The system greatly simplifies such calculations.

Storm system analysis for emergency flood control. The GIS will simplify and expedite storm system analysis during emergencies. It quickly finds inadequately sized areas and helps illustrate discharge points.

Helps create sophisticated engineering models. Such models include hydraulic planning, water and reclaimed water systems expansion. With the open database architecture, many of the models can access data in the same format. As a result, the city only had to build one modeling template that can be used for multiple applications.

Additional Applications

To date, about 40 employees in the city's Public Works Department, Growth Management Department and Utility Billing Department have received training. The Building and Fire Safety Division plans to use the GIS to immediately determine what utility services are available when issuing new building permits. The database also will be used to analyze the effectiveness of fire hydrants and water mains. Utility Billing plans to use the system for assessing connection charges that will help calculate how much to charge developers for water main connections. Other departments, such as Leisure Services and Parks, may implement the system later this year. Future plans call for using personal digital assistants and truck-mounted laptops in the field so the city can have live data capture and update information immediately. So far, the GIS has earned its keep. It provides the city with more effective maintenance activities documentation, assists in making decisions for capital planning of pavement and utility line rehabilitation and placement, and serves as a tool that can be used to make better decisions regarding tax and rate payer funds. In short, the city's ability to serve the community has increased significantly.

Return to: 2003 Feature Stories