Elkins Adding GIS Technician to Operations Department

Elkins, W. Va., November 19, 2020: As city governments across the nation increasingly integrate digital technology into their administration and operations, it is becoming more and more common to find Geographic Information Systems (GIS) specialists among the ranks of municipal employees. City of Elkins is about to take this step as well. The city is advertising for its first GIS technician and hopes to bring a qualified candidate aboard within the next several months.

GIS is most commonly associated with mapping, and while mapping is a big part of what the city’s new GIS technician will be doing, there is much more to this field. GIS solutions can help improve interdepartmental data sharing, support timesaving use of mobile devices in the field, and enable streamlined communication between citizens and government officials.

“A well-run GIS program can not only provide significant time and cost savings but also enable all kinds of new capabilities that can help us expand the information and services we provide to our customers,” says Bob Pingley, the city’s operations manager and the person who will supervise the new GIS technician.

For example, the City of Oak Hill has had a GIS program since 2011 and hired a GIS coordinator in 2014. As can be seen at www.oakhillwv.gov/opendata, and despite the fact that the Oak Hill GIS department continues to have only one employee, the city has steadily deployed a large number of GIS web applications, or services based on the city’s GIS data, that anyone with internet access can take advantage of.

Oak Hill’s free, GIS-based web applications include the Oak Hill Yard Sales App, a “Where Do I Vote” application, the Oak Hill Citizen Problem Reporter, a Street Paving Projects Dashboard, interactive ward and zoning maps, a portal for accessing data concerning an ongoing soil contamination issue that may threaten the community’s water supply, and many more.

“We have a whole list of our own projects waiting for the new hire, naturally,” says Pingley. “We’ll be bringing a new public-facing dilapidated properties dashboard online next year, and managing that will be a key part of their duties, as will managing the city’s address maps and database and coordinating data sharing with county addressing officials.”

One high-priority task for the new GIS technician will be to capture the huge amount of infrastructure information that is currently contained 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 Pingley. “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 as they go into the ground.

“Another early project where we will put this person to work is mapping the replacement remote-read water meters that are about to be installed throughout the city,” says Pingley.

Pingley says that this project offers a good example of the value available from the ability of a GIS database to associate nonspatial information, such as notes about recent maintenance work, with a geographic point, such as a given water meter.

“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,” he says. “That’s just one of many examples of how GIS can help us by centralizing information in one easy-to-access place.”

Pingley says he is looking forward to exploring what GIS will be able to offer City of Elkins and the city’s residents, business owners, and other stakeholders.

“It’s fair to say that we are starting to really see the limits of what you might call the twentieth-century approach to mapping and geographic information,” says Pingley. “It will be great to see what Elkins can accomplish with twenty-first century mapping tools and the expertise to get the most value out of them.”

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