Safe to Swim? New County Webpage Alerts Public

The Hennepin County, Minn., Environmental Health Department website streamlines processes and uses interactive GiS mapping feature to let swimmers know if their favorite beaches are open.

A new webpage run by the Environmental Health Department of Hennepin County, Minn., provides real-time data to beach-goers and streamlines agency processes. The website features an interactive map connected to the county’s geographic information systems (GIS) that lets citizens know if their favorite beaches are open.

The county’s Public Swimming Beaches webpage, which uses ESRI mapping software, was launched on May 28 to meet several agency goals, said Duane Hudson, program manager for the department.

“We had a GIS coordinator here at the county who supports the information services and the data we manage to make available to the public in an easy, simple, interactive map for the general public and beach-goers,” Hudson said. The ESRI mapping software they chose met all of those goals.

The website creates a common record of beaches that eliminates confusion, because people sometimes call the same beach by different names. It is also a reliable and official way to communicate with all their municipal beach owners, and a way to streamline their reporting process internally, according to Hudson

“In the past, we had to go through an approval process […] to publish information on a website,” Hudson said. “We got the format approved through that process, so all we have to do now is update the data and we can do that as soon as we receive the test result information.” The department doesn’t have to update the website. They simply update their maps on a weekly basis after they get water sample results back and the website draws from their map data.

Maintaining the data is easy and not time consuming, according to Hudson. “We created a form in which there’s a minimum number of fields that we have to update on a weekly basis and depending on the test results, the only status that really changes is the sample date, the status of the beach – open or closed – and the reason for the status,” he said.

The county tests 31 beaches each week around Lake Minnetonka. After getting test results back, the county reports the results to the beach owners, who each make a decision on whether to keep their beaches open or closed, and that information is then entered into the county’s GIS. Most commonly, beaches are closed due to bacterial contamination caused by animal or human feces.

Colin wrote for Government Technology and Emergency Management from 2010 through most of 2016.
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