Bexar County, Texas, recently launched a new community dashboard as a way to provide consolidated, useful county information to its increasing population.

The county, located in south-central Texas about 190 miles west of Houston, currently has 1.7 million residents, making it one of the most populated in the country, according to the 2010 Census data. Since the county continues to grow, Bexar CIO Cathy Maras tasked the Bexar County Information Technology department’s GIS division to consolidate county information into an easy-to-use platform to keep citizens involved and proactive in their communities, said GIS manager Todd Alvis.

The interactive tool allows its users to click a location on a map or enter an address, which will bring up six windows of information. The “places” window shows what city jurisdiction the location is under; the “political” window shows the area’s elected representation, including the county’s Commissioners Court, city councils and state and federal legislators; the “residential” window shows neighborhood association and school district information for the area; the “reference” window provides map grid and postal information; the “elections” window shows voter precinct information; and the “water” window shows aquifer and watershed information.

Before, citizens had to browse various websites to access the same information.

“It’s just essentially one simple click on the detailed map with a wealth of information that would be immediately displayed,” Alvis said. “For example, if you need to reach your senator, or find out who your senator is — click — you can find out.”

To produce the dashboard, the county pulled information from its GIS database and used Microsoft Silverlight technology along with an ESRI application programming interface (API) and a cyber-tech template, Alvis said. The dashboard’s simple click-a-location or type-in-an-address functionality differs from the county’s other new websites, which may be more complex for a user.

The county’s new foreclosure map, which was launched after the dashboard, is equipped with a variety of tools such as Google Street View, a ZIP code finder and a routing and barriers tool.

Eric Lomeli, the county’s senior GIS analyst, said the majority of the tools in the foreclosure map came from a template built by a third-party consultant. The dashboard, while not equipped with the same tools as the foreclosure map, is a byproduct of the template.

By using the template, the county GIS division can choose which tools to put on certain websites. Alvis said the county has put the tools into some of its internal websites and plans to input the tools into county websites to be built in the future.

Because these tools may be more complex for a user, video tutorials are available in the tools window, Lomeli said. For example, when users click the question mark icon in the tools window of the foreclosure map, they can access the tutorials.

“It’s difficult to sometimes understand what a tool does unless you play with, and some people don’t have the luxury,” Lomeli said. “They just want quick results.”

Sarah Rich, Staff Writer Sarah Rich  |  Staff Writer

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. Since 2010, Sarah has written for Government Technology magazine and covers a spectrum of public-sector IT topics, including cloud computing, transparency, broadband, and other innovative projects and trends. She currently lives in Sacramento, Calif.