What do you think of when you think GIS?
GIS or Geographical Information Systems is a system that can store, manage, and analyze data much like any other database or table. The bonus with GIS is that it relates that data to a place and even a point in time. With these additional data elements, this information becomes spatial or geospatial in nature, placing it geographically in the real world.
One of the most common ways a GIS database is used is mapping, which is why it is a frequent assumption that GIS is just a way to map data. Maps are a fantastic way to illustrate data results from a GIS system, but the real magic happens during the data analysis which is where the story of the infrastructure can come to life.
How can a GIS system benefit local governments?
It can be daunting for local governments to think about investing in something like a GIS system with many already struggling to find funding for infrastructure repair and upgrades.
One thing to keep in mind with the implementation of a GIS system is that once it’s in place, it will start to pay you back. One of the most direct ways to see dividends is using GIS to create an asset inventory and management system, which is required by some funding sources. For example, the EPA requires a GIS asset management system for lead pipes to participate in their grant funding program. By building an asset inventory in a GIS system, communities can qualify for funding that would otherwise not be available to them.
GIS also allows users to layer data and incorporate timelines. This spatial component provides the power to proactively maintain systems by prioritizing projects based on anticipated failure dates. It can also help identify significant impacts that system upgrades may cause. Let’s say a utility puts in a new water plant that increases the water pressure or flow to accommodate higher demand. This will put more strain on the existing pipe network. A GIS system could identify all pipes that cannot accommodate this higher level of pressure, providing an opportunity to replace them before they burst and cause costly damage.
Layering data in GIS also helps identify high priority improvements that may be affecting vulnerable populations. Many local governments are looking for a way to prioritize infrastructure needs for these members of their communities. Once GIS helps identify these improvements, it can open doors for funding sources dedicated to improving the quality of life for these groups.