Tech must-have saves agencies time, money | SierraSun.com

Tech must-have saves agencies time, money

Christine StanleySierra Sun

The way developers look at Truckee has changed drastically over the past six years, due in large part to local use of geospatial technologies. The Truckee Donner Public Utility District launched its geospatial information system (GIS) in 2000 as a way to comprehensively map Truckees land, roads, power and water lines for the first time, and to then use that information to produce better methods of development and response. Since then, the technology has grown into a planning must-have for not only the utility district, but for the Town of Truckee, the Truckee Tahoe Airport District, the Truckee Fire Protection District and a slew of other public agencies as well.Everybody needs the data and it wouldnt make sense for all of us to go out and get it. Plus, we dont necessarily have the resources to collect it, so this saves us a lot of legwork and a lot of time, said Sean Griffis, GIS battalion chief for the California Department of Forestry.The department has its own state-wide geospatial information system through which data is traded, usually without charge, in part with local agencies. If the state had to gather all of the necessary local information on its own, there would be no way to afford it, Griffis said. We trade data with [the PUD] and they trade data with us. We give them fuels and fire hazard data so that we can have information on population density and property owners, Griffis said. We can use it for 9-1-1 dispatch, evacuation planning, and all that kind of stuff.Geospatial information systems combine detailed computer generated maps with nearly unlimited amounts of real-time data, thus allowing the user to mimic true-to-life scenarios to test consequences. Think of it like a model train, said Ian Fitzgerald, the districts GIS coordinator. By digitizing the utility systems to scale, he said, the district can test water pressure, power outages, and other scenarios. If the power goes out somewhere in Tahoe Donner, Fitzgerald can immediately find out whose homes are dark, exactly where they are, if the resident has a disability or serious medical issue, and where and why the outage occurred. The system will even send detailed text messages to responders explaining the situation. The amount of time and resources this saves the district is huge, and it benefits the ratepayer through efficiency, response time, and accuracy, Fitzgerald said. The fire department can use the information to find a hydrant buried in snow, which is an obvious value, especially if your house is burning down. It took Fitzgerald nine months to map all the necessary land and road information, another year and a half to map the towns electrical system, and until last summer to finish mapping the water lines 600 miles of utilities in all. Large utility districts use similar systems, Fitzgerald said, but few small utilities have capitalized on the technology, and no small utility has a system as advanced as Truckees.The years of development and updating have been well worth the $1.3 million price tag, Fitzgerald said, because not only are the database and maps saving local public districts hundreds of man hours, but thousands, if not millions, of dollars as well.