Elkins, W. Va., March 31, 2021: The establishment of a new department within the Elkins city government will enable City of Elkins to take even better advantage of modern digital tools and techniques for analyzing and presenting important data. Ben Martin, formerly an AmeriCorps member working with Elkins Main Street, has been hired as the city’s first Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technician and the sole member of the city’s new GIS Department.
The term GIS refers to specialized hardware, software, and personnel organized for the purpose of gathering, managing, and analyzing data with geospatial components. Most associated with the field of geography, GIS combines non-spatial data, such as demographics, records, or other details, with a spatial component, such as an address, coordinate, or boundary. Adding a spatial component to data allows GIS technicians to perform a range of analyses to better understand how data is related, where those relationships exist in the world around us, and what insights can be obtained from these relationships.
“While GIS tools help collect and discover new insights into data, GIS is most well-known for the ability to produce maps, and for good reason,” said Martin. “Without accurate, easily understood maps, the most profound insights from data won’t be visible to the end user. A lot of the efficiencies from GIS in local government come from being able to share information effectively with the public, elected officials, and city employees, and maps are a great tool for doing so.”
Indeed, one of the first priorities for the new department will involve mapping, specifically to capture the huge amount of infrastructure information that is currently recorded only on old paper maps and in the heads of longtime city employees.
“Right now, we have to rely more than we want to on human memory when it comes to locating key pieces of underground infrastructure,” says Bob Pingley, the city’s operations manager. “It will be a big step forward to be able to start systematically mapping all of that so that all city departments can access the information.”
The GIS technician will also collect data on new infrastructure components, such as the replacement remote-read water meters currently being installed citywide, as they go into the ground.
“The value of having every one of these water meters in a GIS database is not just being able to see them on a map and locate them more easily in the field, it’s being able to easily access information about each one, like its installation date, maintenance history, and other details that can save our crews time troubleshooting problems or making maintenance decisions,” Pingley says. “That’s just one of many examples of how GIS can help us by centralizing information in one easy-to-access place.”
Other high-priority projects for the GIS Department include managing the public-facing dilapidated properties dashboard that will come online during 2021 and coordinating sharing city address information with county E911 and addressing officials. GIS solutions can also help improve interdepartmental data sharing, support timesaving use of mobile devices in the field and enable streamlined communication between citizens and government officials.
Martin has already begun deploying GIS applications on the city’s GIS homepage (coewv.maps.arcgis.com).
“As quick demo projects, we’ve put up apps for exploring results from the 2019 and 2021 city elections, as well as a dashboard to help city residents figure out what ward they’re in for Spring Cleanup,” says Martin. “These are just simple first steps, but they give a taste of what GIS can do for Elkins. I’m really excited about building out these offerings and seeing what Elkins can accomplish with GIS tools.”