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Mobile GIS could help track little problems around DC

Downtown DC Business Improvement District employees use a hand-held geographic information system (GIS) to track public space problems like broken fire hydrants. Could this technology also help DC government employees, like trash collectors?

BID GIS app. Photo from ESRI.

ESRI, the company that makes the most commonly-used GIS software in the United States, has a quarterly newsletter called ArcNews. The spring issue has a story about a custom program that BID employees use to report issues with the trash cans, park benches, bus shelters, and other public assets in the BID.

The program sounds like a more sophisticated version of the SeeClickFix application that is re-skinned and rebranded as the DC311 app. The 311 app is buggy and could use work to make it more useful, but it's limited in scope and meant for the public to simply report issues, not address the process from start to finish. The application for the BID employees appears to do just that.

I've often watched DC Department of Public Works (DPW) employees in the morning picking up trash in the alley. There are two guys riding on the back of the truck and one driver. Once in the alley, the two employees who jump off the back of the truck methodically empty the supercans into the truck, while the driver slowly trundles the truck down the alley.

What if the driver had a dash-mounted tablet with a program similar to the one the BID workers have? Perhaps he could quickly note things like illegally dumped furniture, potholes, or broken supercan lids.

With a program like the one the BID has, these DPW employees could be an early-warning system for the department, hitting a button to record the location of any of these issues that DPW would have to deal with. It seems like this could be an efficient way to asses problems that the department would need to deal with anyway. The increased workload could be connected to a bonus system of sorts. Drivers that find the most legitimate problems that need to be addressed could receive a commensurate pay increase.

In addition, perhaps some of the features in this program could filter down to the DC311 app in a future update.

Geoff Hatchard lived in DC's Trinidad neighborhood. The opinions and views expressed in Geoff's writing on this blog are his, and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer. 


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Geoff, the municipal government of the District of Columbia should be applauded for adopting this type of technology.

I hope they continue to progress with this, using ESRI or some other software (I am indifferent as to which vendor the District selects).

But please don't forget that many (most or all?) smartphones today geotag images by default. Many cameras have this ability as well (my Sony camera does).

It would be really cool if governmental entities in general that own land or infrastructure that is open to the public would allow citizens to upload geotagged images and then provide a short description of what the problem is.

That is independent of the technology that the citizen happens to be using, and should not be all that expensive.

by C. P. Zilliacus on Apr 11, 2013 4:03 pm • linkreport

I'd much rather see the District adopt Mapbox or another open-source GIS technology.

ESRI's stuff always tends to be expensive, proprietary, and clunky.

by andrew on Apr 12, 2013 10:05 am • linkreport

Just a clarification that there is a workforce view in SeeClickFix that does allow for all of the features listed above.

Great stuff regardless though.

by Ben Berkowitz on Apr 13, 2013 11:30 am • linkreport

[This comment has been deleted for violating the comment policy and using a false email address.]

by eye am annoyed on Apr 14, 2013 3:33 pm • linkreport

Great! I look forward to hearing more about the use of Geospatial technology in the government space outside of the planning department.

by DMVImport on Apr 18, 2013 10:22 am • linkreport

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