February 5, 2008 By Chad Vander Veen
The evolution of GIS is making an impact around the world, though in many cases, you don't have to go anywhere to experience it. Las Vegas and Sheboygan, Wis., are each enhancing the business of government through the use of clever GIS applications.
In Las Vegas, e-government managers Greg Duncan and Anthony Willis are rolling out an array of citizen-facing services that seamlessly employ GIS technology without end-users ever noticing it. Their motivation to deliver tools that use location data stems from a realization that using GIS no longer means you need to have a wealth of expertise.
"Instead it can be something where you can answer spatially related questions through a Web browser," Duncan said. "And that's what we've been trying to do with some of the new services we're starting to launch on the city's Web site. The user of the system doesn't have to be a GIS analyst, but [he or she] can still answer spatial questions."
In Sin City, it's the visitors who are usually the ones at the casinos. Residents of Las Vegas are just like anyone else. And as Las Vegas grows, people who live there may want to learn more about what their city offers. For example, arranging a special event at a city park used to mean finding the phone number for the parks and recreation department. Now, that service is available online at any time, with the data only a few mouse clicks away.
On the city's site, a user need only look on the left side of the screen and find the "I Want To ..." menu. The menu boasts an array of different services that can be accessed easily. One of the choices is "find." Selecting it brings up more options, such as "missing pets," "emergency services" and "parks and facilities." By choosing parks and facilities, a user can search parks by features or address. Currently there are 31 features a user can select to narrow a search - everything from baseball fields to bocce ball to fishing ponds. Once options are selected, the matching parks are displayed, each with a link to Google Maps. All this can be done in a few seconds.
The city also offers an online 311-type service that lets residents and visitors report problems or nonemergency incidents. While this might not seem particularly innovative on the surface, what many people don't realize is that a large portion of the famed Las Vegas Strip isn't actually in the city of Las Vegas, but in an unincorporated part of Clark County. With the system the city has built, someone who finds graffiti outside Caesars Palace or suffers a dog bite near The Venetian can simply input the approximate location, and the system will direct the person to the appropriate agency.
"Say someone rolls into a pothole outside the Bellagio in the middle of Las Vegas Blvd.," said Willis. "Many tourists would likely say, 'Hey, city of Las Vegas, you're responsible for this.' But actually it's Clark County. Now, the new way, you just tell what type of problem it is and where it exists, and this utility will link you to the right spot. No map involved, but it's fully GIS as the backbone of this application."
In Sheboygan, Wis., city officials are taking advantage of next-generation GIS to enhance internal operations by providing emergency responders a better look at what they're dealing with. The city wanted a way to give public safety the upper hand when disaster strikes. Tom Horness, the city's GIS specialist, found that software from Autodesk, a company specializing in CAD and 3-D imagery, offered tantalizing possibilities.
Sheboygan officials discovered that by using Autodesk tools, they could render their entire downtown in lifelike 3-D. Even more impressive: The software lets city personnel see inside of
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