TECHNOLOGY/Web-based system enhances record access
The Orange County (Calif.) Public Facility and Resource Department (PFRD) has developed a Web-based retrieval and viewing system for its public records. Designed to run through an intranet connection, the records system makes more than 100 years of countywide land-based information available to all county employees.
The geomatics division of the PFRD is responsible for compiling, managing and maintaining all land-related public records, including tract maps, parcel maps, records of surveys, engineering drawings and as-built drawings. Because it houses so much land-based information, the division has been a critical data hub for many county offices, receiving about 27,000 requests for records per year.
Seven years ago, those records helped build a GIS, which contains the county’s vector land-use basemap, maps of 640,000 parcels and aerial photography of the county. However, critical information in the records, such as how surveys were conducted on certain properties, was not converted into the GIS because of technical and budgetary constraints. Without digital access to that information, county employees and residents, who comprise about 80 percent of the PFRD’s users, would have to travel to the records room — sometimes daily — to search for and retrieve documents.
“We clearly needed to develop a better system to share data with other county groups, such as operations and maintenance who send people here every day to pull records,” says Bob Jelinek, deputy county surveyor. “The most effective method to do that was through the Web.”
In May 1999, the county contracted with Calgary, Canada-based MRF Geosystems to create a Web-based record viewing and retrieval system. The system had to allow users to search, query and retrieve records and vector GIS data via the Internet at any time.
To begin the project, each of the county’s 250,000 records was scanned, and attributes, such as surveyors’ names, dates of surveys and company names, were collected and stored in a database. Each record was geo-referenced to within 10 feet and linked to a geographic location in the county’s vector land information system.
In January 2001, all data conversion was completed, and now, county employees can find public records and vector GIS data using a standard Web browser and a plug-in. Although residents cannot yet access the system via the Internet, they can use computer stations in the records room to research information.
Users view a vector basemap when they enter the system, and they can search by zooming into an area, by entering a street intersection, by using coordinates, or by entering a specific document code. For location searches, users draw a polygon around their area of interest and get a detailed map with a list of links to all land records available within that polygon. For document searches, users can search by company name, surveyor name and filing date.
“By integrating the GIS data and the public records to create a centralized data pool, we can now provide a more comprehensive data archive to users,” says Jelinek. “I would imagine that many people probably didn’t even know we had certain data available. Now, with one query they can see a whole range of available documents and retrieve them in seconds.”
Based on the positive response to the new online system, Jelinek plans to expand the database to include data sets from other departments, such as offsite design documents. He wants to put the system on the Internet by the end of next summer so residents will be able to view the information from any computer with Internet access.