GIS to the Rescue

Feb. 15, 2007

About the author: David Jacobs is a project manager for the city of Garland, Texas’ Water Utilities Department. He can be reached at 975/205-3200 or by e-mail at [email protected]. Fred Souza is a GIS analyst for the city of Garland, Texas’ GIS Department. He can be reached at 975/205-3200 or by e-mail at [email protected]. Renee Ramey is the customer service administrator for the city of Garland, Texas. She can be reached at 975/205-2886 or by e-mail at [email protected].


The city of Garland, Texas has implemented a custom automated vehicle location (AVL) system, backboned by ESRI’s ArcIMS Interactive Map, into its water utilities field operations.

This system has strengthened the department’s ability to manage its field resources and service orders. The system is a hybrid locator system that is part of the department’s strategic technologies plan and serves as a guiding light document for system enhancements and keeping pace with rising citizen expectations. One of the primary plan objectives is to use the existing ArcIMS system to deliver more than infrastructure mapping across the Intranet.

How the system started

Garland’s GIS department has been using the GIS software to distribute GIS data throughout the organization for four years. The water utility data was converted into GIS format (initially as shape files and now as features in ArcSDE), and displayed in ArcIMS’ interactive map. The water utility has deployed in-vehicle mobile digital terminals (MDT) to diminish the need for paper maps.

The next step taken by the water utility was to find a way to integrate its work management system (WMS) with an AVL and ArcIMS. This need was accomplished by the introduction of ArcSDE and Geocortex IMF, a set of custom tools and interface for ArcIMS-based mapping applications.

The AVL system is part of the city’s GIS Interactive Mapping System and is displayed on a customized browser for water utility interaction.

In this way current features like water main lines, valves, water meters, sewer main line, and manholes can be selected for viewing on the same map as vehicles and service calls.

How the system works

A citizen telephones the Water Control Center with a request for service. A systems operator enters information about the call into its WMS. At predetermined time periods, a screen refresh occurs on an AVL layer in the city’s GIS Interactive map and the address of the call is added to the map as a layer.

Service calls with a crew assignment are entered into the WMS and are colorized by Water Utilities divisions and displayed in the GIS Interactive map. A service call with an unassigned crew is colorized with a different color scheme in WMS and remains that color until the call is assigned to a field crew.

The GIS map layer also contains all active vehicle locations symbolized by a truck icon. The operator benefits by not only having a database record of the call but by having access to a visual rendering of all active vehicle locations in proximity to the service call.

An operator chooses which vehicle should be assigned the call by using predetermined departmental procedures along with an AVL feature known as Nearest Vehicle to Address. This feature provides, in a tabular format, information about vehicles that are the closest to the call as well as the furthest away. The operator chooses the appropriate vehicle for call assignment, and the color associated with the call point on the map changes to denote the call has been assigned to a field crew.

Another AVL feature is the Map Tip functionality. With this feature, the mouse is stationed over a call point or vehicle icon and a popup box is initiated to provide the operator with information about the service call or the vehicle.

Additional important features of the AVL system are a Speeding Alert, an Out of Bounds Alert and a Breadcrumb feature that can be activated at any time to retrace the path of the vehicle, by calendar date and time of day, as it has traveled throughout the city.

The AVL system was implemented to address management concerns regarding work scheduling, workload balancing, employee safety and better utilization of its workforce. Until the system was implemented, water system operators had limited knowledge of the exact location of field vehicles.

Other primary system requirements were expandability, portability and flexibility. The water utility desired a system that could be easily modified for use by other city departments without costly upgrades. Requirements were necessary due to the department’s secondary mission of dispatching after-hours, non-emergency 311-type calls for the municipality. After-hour crews from departments like Animal Control, Streets, Traffic, Facilities Management and Customer Service are routinely received dispatched calls from water system operators after 3:15 p.m. and until 6:30 a.m. the following day.

Customer Service is planning a deployment of 12 vehicles equipped with AVL technology in 2007. The expected benefits are time management, crew safety, and fuel and vehicular wear and tear savings. Upon implementation, the system will safeguard the Customer Service rolling vehicle inventory, valued at slightly over $350,000.

Benefits to utility

Some of the more obvious benefits include workforce leveling, time management, fuel and vehicular wear and tear savings, work scheduling, crew safety and better managerial oversight of departmental field crews.

The crew was suspicious of the new system, but mild opposition has given way to training and communication and system acceptance. Safety has been a key management selling point of the system. The location of the vehicle is now known at all times so that if emergency assistance is needed it can be accurately dispatched and the individual has a better chance to be reached within a life-saving timeframe.

From an oversight standpoint, the system provides improved safeguards for the Water Utility’s $3 million rolling vehicle inventory.