GIS increases revenue, speeds response to fires
Terrebonne Parish, La., has created a Web-based GIS that is accessible to all its departments and agencies. By pooling the resources of all parish departments to build the system, departments save money by eliminating redundant data collection.
Prior to developing the system, Terrebonne did not have a parish-wide GIS. Two departments, Water Works and Utilities, had started separate digital mapping projects, but they were nearly duplicate efforts. Parish officials decided to build one system that all departments could use.
Terrebonne contracted with Dallas, Texas-based Applied Technological Services in early 2002 to build the GIS. Using software from Huntsville, Ala.-based Intergraph and working primarily with the Assessor’s Office, the company gathered existing digital street and parcel line data from portions of the parish that had such information. The company filled out the rest of the GIS by converting paper records to a digital format. To store text and tabular information, such as tax records and property ownership details, the company created an Oracle database loaded with that information. It also obtained new digital aerial photos of the parish and stored them, along with parcel vectors, in a Microsoft Access spatial database, which was attached to the GIS.
To supplement the parcel data, the assessor worked with the Fire Department to collect digital images of all properties in the parish. Over several months, approximately 140 firefighters took photographs of every building in their districts and sent them to the Assessor’s Office, where they were matched with parcel identification numbers and stored on a disk.
The Assessor’s Office began using the GIS late last year. Now, when personnel in the office review assessments, they key an address into a Web browser interface. The GIS retrieves text and tabular information from the Oracle database, maps and aerial photos from the Access database, and ground photos from a storage disk.
Once the Assessor’s Office grew comfortable with the GIS, the Fire Department began using it to improve its dispatch operations. When fires are reported to the dispatch center, operators enter the addresses into the GIS and hit the F10 button on their keyboards. That generates a list of fire stations that can respond to the emergency, and dispatchers alert the appropriate stations.
Additionally, dispatchers can view a photo of the structure and a parcel map of the property highlighting positions of the two nearest fire hydrants. Originally, dispatchers faxed those graphics to the responding stations so they could be viewed en route to the fire. However, faxing proved too time consuming, and the parish is installing a virtual private network (VPN) that will deliver graphics electronically at T-1 speed to the stations’ computer printers for color output. The VPN will be online early this year.
The GIS gives emergency dispatchers access to property information that they did not have previously. “The dispatcher can also view ownership and other information the station chief might need in fighting the fire,” says Gene Bonvillain, assessor. “This can either be transmitted electronically or radioed verbally to the crews from the dispatcher. The firefighters are so excited by the potential of the system, some have gone back into the field to photograph electrical and gas links into each property so that information can also be available to them via the GIS.”
With geospatial applications already online for tax assessment and fire response, Terrebonne estimates the $500,000 system may increase tax revenues as much as $12 million within the next four years as a result of more accurate property assessments. Additionally, two fire districts in the parish have had their insurance rates adjusted by the state Insurance Rating Commission. Owners of homes and other buildings in those areas could see reductions of 15 to 20 percent on property insurance premiums.