GIS mapping: What it’s all about

Easton signLast Wednesday night’s storm brought high winds and torrential downpours, leaving more than a dozen trees down, roads blocked and 185 Easton residents without power.

Imagine town emergency responders — from firefighters to police to EMTs — being able to quickly obtain specific locations of each incident, bringing aid to those who require it at an even faster rate.

That’s the benefit of providing the town’s maps to the Greater Bridgeport Regional Council for inclusion in the organization’s geographic information system (GIS), according to Easton’s top official.

“This situation relates directly to this very morning,” said First Selectman Tom Herrmann last Thursday, only hours after the Board of Selectmen refused a request from 61 residents seeking a special Town Meeting on transferring the town map images to the GBRC.

“If we were using the GIS, our police and public works personnel could have immediately keyed in locations and GPS coordinates about where situations have occurred.

“EMS personnel could go into the maps and immediately find any residents affected with critical medical needs. The fire department could immediately find out what roads are blocked and, in turn, find an optimum route to get to a fire call,” added the first selectman.

The selectmen’s ruling last Thursday was the latest in a two-month-long debate between Mr. Herrmann, who also is chair of the GBRC, and Town Clerk Derek Buckley about whether the maps could be provided to the regional council.

GBRC has received a $1.4 million grant to fund the capital cost of developing the regional GIS, and council executive director Brian Bidolli said the system will be created whether Easton submits its maps or not.

“We will be developing the system with the best information we have,” said Mr. Bidolli. “The maps we’re asking for from the [Easton] town clerk is only for parcel work and town boundary research. If we receive the Easton maps, the mapping system will just be more accurate.”

Mr. Bidolli added that the town can also join a soon-to-be proposed regional maintenance agreement, which, considering the limited amount of work needed to maintain Easton’s maps, would cost Easton only a minimum fee. Or, according to Mr. Bidolli, Easton could opt to maintain its own system, but that would be more costly.

“Any maintenance plans will be developed at the council level, so Tom Herrmann and town officials will be involved every step of the way,” said Mr. Bidolli. “There will be no surprises in terms of costs.”

But Mr. Buckley has voiced his concern about providing the maps since the Board of Selectmen gave its approval for the move in December.

In a letter dated Dec. 6, 2012, Mr. Buckley stated several concerns about transferring the maps. He stated that it was “not clear” that the town “owns” the maps; and asked that since GBRC would be providing free access to the maps, how would Easton replace any lost revenue from entering into the GIS?

Mr. Bidolli said that using GIS typically increases town revenues by increasing efficiency and the technological capacity of town departments.

Over the past two months, town officials have received legal opinions stating that the maps are public record, therefore available for the town clerk to transfer to the council for inclusion in the GIS.

And after last Thursday’s selectmen decision to deny a special Town Meeting on the issue, Mr. Herrmann stated that another formal written request was submitted to Mr. Buckley, who has until today to provide the town’s maps. If the maps have not been provided, Mr. Herrmann said Mr. Buckley’s decision will be a topic of discussion on the Board of Selectmen meeting tonight.

“No comment,” stated Mr. Buckley last Thursday when asked about the selectmen’s latest ruling denying the special Town Meeting.

Now Mr. Herrmann is again trying to let the residents understand the benefits of the GIS, and that providing the maps to the regional group — to which Easton is a member along with Bridgeport, Fairfield, Monroe, Stratford and Trumbull.

“I don’t know any municipality in the state that doesn’t have or wouldn’t want GIS,” said Mr. Herrmann. “And the GIS mapping system is available to our town at no cost. We have a grant obtained by the GBRC. The grant will fund the establishment and maintenance of the GIS for our town.”

And for those residents concerned about “restricted” information being available to anyone to obtain, Mr. Herman said that was not true, and that such details — such as residences housing those with specific medical needs — will remain private.

“The town of Easton will control how much information is available to the general public,” said Mr. Bidolli about security concerns voiced by some residents.

The GIS database can link all of the town’s digital data together based on location, such as address. This could enable all departments to have access to and share the same data, and ensure all departments and individuals are using the most up-to-date information, according to Mr. Herrmann, offering better access to better quality and time-relevant data may help the town make better decisions.

“Public safety is the biggest strength of the GIS system,” said Mr. Bidolli.

Overall, GIS provides support for land use planning projects; ecological and hydrological investigations; water resources development projects, and public outreach and education programs as well as proper taxation of local properties.

“GIS will help make sure all the land and properties are properly taxed,” said Mr. Herrmann. “By downloading the tax assessor maps, we could find any overlap or gaps. We could find any property that is not being taxed.”

Mr. Herrmann specifically cited the dispute with Monroe over the exact location of a border between the two towns. The first selectman said that importing the coordinates into the GIS would provide “a perfect opportunity to resolve this situation.”

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