Blending Web and GIS Technologies

A New York county uses mapping and the Internet to give power to the people.

by / September 30, 1999
With more government jurisdictions incorporating GIS and the Internet into their daily operations, perhaps it was inevitable that the two would get together. But Westchester County, N.Y., skipped past the courting period and jumped right into a happy marriage -- posting information critical to the county's infrastructure online.

"From anywhere in the world people can visit the page and

get vital information about the locations of our schools, libraries, major employers, all public services as well as environmental and planning information," said County Executive Andy Spano. "This is an example of government at its best, government that uses technology to better serve people." Award-Winning Month
July was a good month for Westchester County. Not only did the county win the award from ESRI, it received a designation from Vice President Al Gore to be the pilot jurisdiction for Access America.

The designation is part of Gore's National Partnership for Reinventing Government, which strives to make government more accessible and cost-effective through the use of technology.

"In Westchester, we have found a true model for others to follow," Gore told county officials. "I was particularly impressed with your plans to create 125 miles of high-bandwidth transmission that will provide integrated voice, video and data services to over 500 public buildings throughout the county. Your leadership on this project is to be commended."

CIO Norman Jacknis said county officials are talking with federal agencies to develop federal-county projects that offer seamless government through the use of technology.


Westchester County, home for 900,000 people and just north of New York City, is

enjoying a technological revolution. When Spano took over as county executive in January 1998, he decided to reinvent an information technology department that had been outsourced during a previous administration. He brought in Norman Jacknis as CIO and since then the sky has been the limit. The county was selected as the pilot site for electronic filing of documents, and Jacknis has been focusing on a 125-mile SONET ring.

One of the steps taken in this rapid rise was the GIS Web page, which can be found online or through the county's home page. The site recently received a Special Achievement in GIS Award from Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI) from among 100,000 sites worldwide. The award recognized a Web page that has an environmental-features map and a community-facilities map. Using ESRI's ArcView Internet Map server, users can add and remove layers, pan and zoom around the map and identify features -- all from a normal browser window.

Importance of GIS

"I think GIS started out with some mapping and maybe some planning functions, but in

Westchester we've gone way beyond that and we'll be doing even more than we're doing now," Jacknis said. "In a lot of ways, government exists primarily because it's defined by boundaries, geographical boundaries, and a lot of the data that governments use is land-based or geographically based, and you need a way to organize that properly. Sometimes it happens in ways you don't even expect. One of the first things we did when we were putting together an information technology department was to try to apply geocoding to some interesting subjects -- like how far away is the population of needy kids from where daycare is."

Jacknis, who requires that all of the county's new systems have appropriate fields for geocoding, said Westchester County is also using GIS to display all of the various paths of its fiber-optic ring.

"By virtue of our Web work, our data requests and data dissemination has just gone right through the ceiling. It's just easier for people to work through our Web site when you can download data that you can actually see," added Sam Wear, the county's GIS manager. "Through our outreach with local government we've had a really profound impact on building the GIS infrastructure in the county. By offering support and technical assistance, we can spread the use of this technology so that we can serve more people."

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