Thursday, March 31, 2011

Interactive GIS Map for Columbia City Mo

Columbia residents hungry for information about their city and their property could soon have improved access to city geographic information system, or GIS, data.

On Friday, a four-person unit will begin working to centralize the city’s GIS capabilities. They will develop an interactive map of the city that will eventually be available for public use.

Assistant City Manager Tony St. Romaine, who headed a steering committee to establish a centralized GIS system, said the program should allow city staff and the public to see a topographical map of the city, click on a parcel of land and uncover information about the property such as zoning designations and the name of the nearest fire protection provider.

On March 7, the Columbia City Council approved the transfer of the four employees to the city’s Public Works Department to form the new GIS office. The staffing of the office is considered budget-neutral; the $134,096 to pay the salaries, travel expenses and benefits plans for the four employees was transferred from other departments.

John Fleck, the city’s GIS coordinator and a member of the new unit, said testing for the program would likely begin in May.

Use of GIS data is nothing new for city and county departments. Those looking to buy property in Boone County can already look at their potential purchase on the Boone County assessor’s website, which shows a satellite photograph complete with a graphic overlay indicating property measurements. The county also features an interactive map to display road closures. City departments have used GIS technology for several years, but access to the data has mostly been internal, and sharing it between departments has been complicated.

Federal and state departments have pushed for more integrated use of GIS data between government agencies for nearly a decade. In the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, federal agencies provided funds for GIS data in an effort to boost the performance of public safety and emergency management entities.

Fleck said those security concerns initially hampered the sharing of GIS data between departments. The locations of certain utility facilities was considered sensitive information. “We have kind of outgrown our initial security phobias,” Fleck said.

A 2008 report from the Missouri Geographic Imaging Systems Advisory Commission espoused the benefits of more integrated GIS systems. “The impact of improving geospatial coordination will be broad-reaching and include tangible benefits, such as saving money and saving lives, as well as intangible benefits, such as improving citizen engagement, protecting natural resources, and improving agency workflows and efficiencies,” the report said.


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