Debut of the DC Atlas

By Joe Francica

DC Atlas Interview Interview with Adam Rubinson, co-director of the DC GIS & Vicki DeFries, GIS Manager, Office of the Chief Technology Officer, Washington D.C.

Interview conducted by Directions Magazine Editor, Joe Francica on May 31, 2002

  • Overview: The DC Atlas pools demographic, geographic and socioeconomic data from all 67 District agencies.It eliminates users' need to search disparate resources for critical GIS information and it standardizes the information to ensure it's always accurate and up-to-date.The DC Atlas is user-friendly, so agency employees can easily analyze multiple map layers to make sense of how data relates to a certain area or location.
  • Tell me about the DC Atlas?
    We are very excited about June 3rd, when the Mayor's (Mayor Anthony Williams) and the Chief Technology Officer's vision of a 21st century tech city will take a major step forward with the unveiling of the Atlas.DC GIS is the first enterprise GIS for the District.Before Mayor Williams established the Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO), and OCTO got involved with this project, there was no enterprise GIS.The DC Atlas is the web-enabled window into the DC GIS.It is a suite of tools that we make available over the intranet to District government employees.The significance of it is twofold: For the first time, on a wide basis, the District is going to have access to a GIS, where we are all sharing our data and also, we are making this available to every District employee with a web browser, which will require only one day of training to fully utilize the basic functionality.It will empower the average District employee to plan and make better decisions using GIS, as opposed to the paradigm in many places where GIS is primarily the province of the GIS specialist and technologist who have a lot of training and access.

    What is the platform you are using to deploy the intranet applications?
    It is an ArcIMS with an Oracle database.

    The Downtown orthophoto map was made in the detailed city map module

    What is the history on the development of this system?
    Before Mayor Williams took office, there were scattered employees in various parts of the District, that used GIS but who only had access to the data that they themselves had access to in their own agency.And they were using different systems; some were using ESRI, some Intergraph.When OCTO began, three and one half years ago was when we really got serious about creating and enterprise GIS for the District.We first did our air photos in 1999 and one recently that will be updated.We rolled out our enterprise GIS over the last year.The DC Atlas took us about two years, start to finish.In the fall, we are unveiling the Citizens Atlas, which will be available to the public.

    Much of the information about the DC Atlas that I received seems to be directed toward crime analysis. Is that the driving factor in its development?
    Actually, no, that is one of many applications.Because of 9/11, there have been many recent applications that really put the DC Atlas on the "map" that just happened to coincide with its rollout.A lot of the interest lately has not only been crime analysis and law enforcement but also on our password-protected emergency management modules.The Mayor created his Emergency Preparedness Council and they asked for some way to produce maps of evacuation routes.They weren't used to creating maps that quickly so they came to us and we put that together in less than one week.

    The deputy mayor also starting collecting data on things like the number of hospital beds, and our communications and utility infrastructure, HAZMAT, etc.We are now in the process of aggressively collecting these data.One other application that has gotten attention lately is that we created a 3D GIS application, with the Office of Planning in mind, for obvious reasons, and after 9/11 this had other obvious applications as well.So we talked to the police department into fast tracking the 3D modeling of the downtown area so that they would be ready in time for the IMF (International Monetary Fund) protests.Of course DC has more major demonstrations than any city in America, but particularly there is a particular public safety and potential emergency preparedness challenge for the IMF/World Bank protests that occur here in the District.And so we made this available to the police department so that they could run simulations and simulate traffic flows in various scenarios to plan the IMF protests. And then during the demonstration themselves, the MPD (Metropolitan Police Department) was running this application in their command center so that when new information would come up in course of the day, they could plan their event response to each scenario.So, really, our public safety and emergency management agencies have fully embraced this tool.But this is only one tiny part of the data layers and tools that we have available.

    The Downtown major transportation routes map was made in the administrative module

    To what degree is it being used in the current Chandra Levy investigation?
    I do not know whether they are using GIS specifically in the Levy case.I do know that GIS is a tool that police departments use for crime analysis, and that MPD is a major supporter of the DC GIS.I also know that they used the OCTO-developed 3D GIS tool for the IMF demonstrations, and they also develop their own applications in-house, in support of their mission, using the DC GIS. Chief Ramsey came from the Chicago Police Department and he was used to having enterprise GIS at his fingertips and so he brought over with him his GIS person.MPD tells me that he wants to make all his police officers crime analysts. So, I would imagine that since the Chandra Levy case is the most high profile case in the District that he will use every tool in his arsenal to solve this crime.Knowing how much he values GIS, I would suppose that he is using it.

    From the statements you have made, it would seem that this would be a great introduction to mobile-based mapping technology, not just with in-vehicle mobile data terminals (MDT) but with handheld mapping?
    Well, its funny that you mention that because one of my other programs is the District wireless program. I put MDT in all the police vehicles, I put AVL (automatic vehicle technology) in all the ambulances and I am about to put them in fire trucks.Eventually we will have them in the non-public safety fleet vehicles as well such as snow removal, tow trucks, trash removal, etc.And the vision is handhelds as well with a private data network for the District.For the right here and now, we have the wireless MDTs in police vehicles; and because the DC Atlas is on the intranet and because there is a commercial carrier for the MDTs, we are negotiating the IT security firewall issues to give the MDTs secure access to the DC Atlas.But this is absolutely what we are planning, which is to soon give the police the ability to pull up the maps and do the analysis right in their vehicles.

    The Downtown planimetric map was made in the detailed city map module

    And the same is true for other District employees as well.We use Hansen for our customer relationship management and asset management software.So, if a citizen sees a problem such as a pothole or a tree needs trimming or an abandoned vehicle, they will call into the mayor's call center and a work order or a trouble ticket will be issued.The next step would be to attach that ticket to an asset using GIS so that the supervisor can route and track an employee to the problem. But then, the citizen can click on that asset and look at the service request history and see exactly when that work order or ticket was closed.Now, there is that much more accountability for the District employee to go to where they need to get the job done, as they are claiming that they are getting the job done.

    This sounds, for all the world, like the enterprise GIS systems that many cities have tried to implement. You can go to any number of GIS conferences and find wonderful visions and many failed promises.Have you been through that torture and if not, what has facilitated your success?
    We are very much aware of what you are talking about and the history of those kinds of issues.We do not want to repeat those mistakes in the District.Fortunately for us, this really has the support of the mayor.The mayor signed an order creating the DC GIS Steering committee, and we met for the first time last month.It is the first time that these agency directors, deputy mayors, and other departments are coming together and talking about their data.And that is the interesting side affect here.We are using the GIS to drive the process of getting agencies of taking responsibility for their data and creating the standards for data maintenance.So we're taking that very seriously to not fall into those pitfalls.

    The Downtown major transportation routes map was made in the administrative module

    You've gotten a lot of support from the upper echelons of your government agencies.Have they recognized the cost and additional investment that it will take to maintain the system?
    Yes, absolutely.And let me add that it is not just the local support.The fact of the matter is that as a result of Mayor Williams and Suzanne Peck, the Hill (Congress) is an enormous supporter of OCTO and our IT project.Virtually all of the money, very generously, comes from Capitol funds.

    You are very fortunate!
    We are involved with cutting edge technologies and, in my case, I am a District citizen, and to have this kind of impact on my community is very exciting.

    Published Sunday, June 2nd, 2002

    Written by Joe Francica

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