GIS Map Room on the Net


1999 NACo Achievement Award

Apollo Teng, DIST

(This article appears in GIS News, Vol. 5 No. 4, July 1999)


On June 16, 1999 DIST received notice from the National Association of Counties (NACo) that the County’s GIS Map Room on the Net project was selected for a 1999 NACo Achievement Award in the Information Technology category. This year marks the 30th year of the Achievement Award program. Presentation of the awards will take place on July 18 during the Association’s 64th Annual Conference in St. Louis, Missouri.

The "Map Room" project was designed and implemented by Tim Taormino, GIS Analyst/Programmer with the DIST GIS Team.

The Project

"GIS Map Room on the Net" is an intranet-based GIS application that was constructed to serve all the County departments that are linked to the GIS LAN (Local Area Network). Users enjoy instant access to a rich collection of base maps and department-specific maps without the traditional calling around to identify the availability of maps, ordering the composition of custom maps, making trips to pick up maps, and the attendant long delays. Users can now access a wide selection of maps via ubiquitous web browsers. The various map pages were composed using the ArcView GIS and posted to the County GIS intranet using the ArcView GIS Internet Map Server extension. The map pages are organized by departments and, within department, by functional areas. The imbedded Java applets allow map zoom in/zoom out and pan. They also provide attribute queries for the graphic features displayed/selected.

Need for the Project

County departments deliver services to the citizens by setting up facilities/centers strategically located throughout the County and subdividing the County into service delivery areas that are efficient for the delivery. Maps showing the base features—streets, buildings, parking lots, parks, wooded areas, etc.—and the service facilities and areas are an important aid to service delivery planning and implementation.

With limited resources, it is not possible to maintain map-making staff within each of the County departments. Even with a centralized map-making unit, delays could result due to heavy workload and resource limitation. To provide timely access to many ‘standard’ maps, the County GIS Team needed to change the mode of delivering the services to the using departments.

The recent advances in Internat/intranet technology and GIS-based web publishing provide a sound foundation on which to build an on-line map access system, internally within the County departments for now and eventually on the World Wide Web.

Description of the Project

The Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Team, Department of Information Systems and Telecommunications (DIST), of Montgomery County, Maryland, took the initiative of developing the "GIS Map Room on the Net" in the summer of 1997. The hardware platform was Intel Pentium II-based PC and Server running Windows 95 and NT Server respectively. The software was based on the ArcView desktop GIS and ArcView Internet Map Server (AV-IMS) Extension (both from Environmental Systems Research Institute, ESRI, Redlands, California).

The DIST GIS Team (being a county-wide resource) maintains a street centerline-based address range database (GBF/DIME) that also includes the various county service area codes for each record (i.e. street segment) in the GBF/DIME. Using the street centerline coordinates and the associated service area codes, the GIS Team constructed various service area boundaries and created locations (points) coverages of the various county facilities.

Service area boundaries include:

Board of Elections - Elections Precincts and Districts; Councilmanic, School Board, Legislative, and Congressional Districts

Montgomery County Public Schools – High-, Middle- & Elementary School Service Areas

Police Department - Police Districts, Beats, and Reporting Areas

Fire & Rescue Services - Fire Districts, Response Areas, and Fire Box Areas

Solid Waste Services - Refuse and Recycling Collection Districts and ‘Route Areas;’ Yard Trim & Leaf Collection Areas

County Executive’s Office – Regional Service Area

Health & Human Services Areas (Cluster of High School Clusters)

Recreation Services Areas

Library Service Areas

Facilities locations include:

High-, middle- & elementary schools, police stations, fire stations and rescue squads, community centers, health centers, libraries, hospitals, indoor swimming pools, highway services depots, (county run) liquor stores, traffic control cameras, etc.

These GIS data layers (in ArcInfo coverages) were converted to ArcView Shapefiles and the corresponding "views" composed using ArcView. This ArcView "project," with multiple "views" (one for each department/division), was then posted to the GIS intranet using the AV-IMS Extension.

A table of contents page was constructed to list the departments (and divisions for a larger department) for which map pages have been constructed and are available on the County GIS intranet. Department logos are used to facilitate quick association. The Montgomery County Public Schools map allows an inquirer to determine the nearest elementary, middle and high school by first zooming to the area of interest. Future enhancements will allow the inquirer to further query the ‘fact sheets’ about the schools.

The Board of Elections map shows the Legislative Districts in Montgomery County. Other categories of election districts are also available for display as indicated in the legends block. A click of the mouse on a specific district brings up a ‘fact sheet’ about the district, such as the representative’s name and phone number. More data such as polling place(s) and registered voters’ aggregate profile for the district can be added to the database and made available for on-line query.

Similar map views were also constructed for Police and Fire/Rescue service areas.

Under the Public Works & Transportation section, a user can bring up the County-wide snow removal routes and then zoom into the neighborhood of interest. On the screen display, the different color shaded areas represent the different ‘Snow Route’ areas, whereas the routes are depicted by responsibility (State, County, or municipality) and category (emergency route, salt route, grader-plowed, and neighborhood street). This feature can be used by either County staff to plan and monitor the snow plow/salt operation or by citizens concerned with the snow removal or ice treatment for their neighborhoods.

Currently about 100 PC’s and 35 Unix workstations are connected to the GIS LAN, allowing a dozen departments/divisions to access these map views of the "GIS Map Room on the Net." This new intranet-based GIS application now allows ready access to the most commonly used County base maps and department-specific maps. The using departments can quickly browse these map views and query the underlying data items.

The Next Phase of the Project

Additional applications have also been identified. Expanded View collection and query requirements are being collected from using departments. One example pertains to the publishing of the County RideOn Bus Routes and allowing the users to input a location and obtain a route map around that point. A click of the mouse on the route/stop would display the planned arrival times for the route/stop. Another request is for "CIP Mapping" in that a user can query the County’s capital improvement program status. The query can be based on the sponsoring department, funding sources, program status, etc. The data stored for the CIP projects would be made available for display. This feature would also enable the sponsoring department and/or Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to quickly compose and print CIP location maps to be inserted into the Program Description Forms (PDF).

Still another request for new feature is to have a Street Address Locator that will first prompt for input of a street address and then display the portion of the County centered at the address. Once this capability is in place, display of the various administrative/service boundaries (e.g., Election District and Precinct, High School Cluster) and query of the attributes (e.g., polling place name and address, school telephone number) can also be supported.

The 2000 County PCs (with browser software installed) that have Internet access can gain access to the ‘Map Room’ with the addition of NFS Client software which allows a Windows PC to access files (i.e. HTML pages) on an Ethernet AV-IMS map server. However, a simpler approach is to connect the AV-IMS server to the County’s Internet Web Site and be accessible by the global community, including the citizens of Montgomery County.

Benefits of the Project

This program integrated several technologies—GIS, networking, and web publishing—to enhance the County central GIS/Mapping services to the using departments. As a result, the using departments can quickly and economically obtain many commonly used maps to help them in planning for and monitoring the programs and services. The investment for an end-user is minimal. Web Browser software is free and is already familiar to most PC users. Without this program, a user needing access to GIS maps needs to invest about $2000 ($800 for ArcView software, $700 for 2-day ArcView training, and $500 for more RAM to run ArcView and disk space to store ArcView Projects) and 1-2 weeks of learning the ArcView software.

When this program is up-loaded to the County’s web site, the benefits will quickly multiply. The public, especially the fifty percents (or more) of 900,000 County residents who can use the World Wide Web to browse and query the various ArcView Views (i.e. maps), would have a much higher level of understanding of the County government programs and services. They could inquire and obtain County’s geographical information and services from the comfort of their homes. Valuable time of citizens and business will be saved.

As for the DIST GIS Team, reduced demand on GIS staff time to service the ‘standard’ map (and map-based data) requests allowed the GIS Team to devote more time to more specialized requests, which typically have resulted in bigger benefits from the GIS investment.