City of Huntsville GIS team celebrates 20 years of innovation

As a child, Amy Kenum remembers spending the summer with her family. It was during these trips that she fell in love with studying maps, exploring the geography of different places and getting to know all the natural wonders around her.

Kenum, a graduate of the University of Northern Alabama, now heads the Huntsville City Geographic Information Systems (GIS) office, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary. Hired from a college to work in the city, Speake resident is one of five employees working in the office since its inception on February 14, 2002.

“Being on cutting-edge technology and working in a group of innovative people over the last 20 years has been a great experience,” Kenum said. “When the department was set up, most people didn’t know what opportunities GIS could offer. Our department needed to show what we are capable of. We all had to work together to create new data, develop new workflows and build applications. ”

The beginning

One of the first significant projects of the GIS Office was the release of its public interactive online map with aerial photographs in July 2004. City officials and residents first used the map to view Huntsville images and digital data, before Google Maps was created in 2005.

GIS staff stand in a group photo in 2002, the year the office was founded.

Thomas McDonagh, a GIS program specialist in the city, said the project took a long time, but it was worth the effort.

“First announced to the public in 2004, the web page has gone through six versions and offers more than 100 layers,” he said. “This has drastically reduced the number of phone calls and visits to our office, as well as the amount of paper our office consumes. We now have almost 100 web pages that are essential tools and save time for many. ”

The office also took several datasets around the city and for the first time upgraded the processes. For example, each city department that used addresses had its own address table. GIS combined all addresses into one standardized table and built scripts and models to optimize the update process. The office then collaborated with the Information Technology Services (ITS) and Engineering to ensure that the address table was updated regularly and all city department applications worked with a single address table.

“This address table is still in use today and the process continues to evolve and complement over the years,” Kenum said. “I was asked to speak at several conferences about the methods used in the process. We received calls from other cities, visited our department and asked for progress to show how we do what we do. ”

The GIS Office has also agreed and created complete databases for urban sewage and stormwater systems. In addition, they plotted on a digital map every structure, road, sidewalk, driveway, pond, park, cemetery, bridge and thousands of other city facilities. These are not one-time projects. GIS staff continue to maintain these databases, update processes, change technologies and software, and add additional capabilities.

Public service

Today, GIS manages more than 650 classes of facilities and has more than 90 online applications, 64 of which are available to the public. Residents of the area can browse various online applications to find out who is their representative of the city council, on what day the garbage will be removed, why their home or business is located, whether they are in a flood zone, what type of soil. their property, in which school areas they are located, look at historical maps and more.

GIS expert Steve Perkins said GIS never stops studying, reviewing and updating its systems.

“We add new information and tools every year,” he said. “We take care of each other, praise each other for the great work and give advice when asked. We are all passionate about our work and always do our best. We rarely refuse a request and see new, complex projects as a challenge to be addressed. Working here in our group is never boring, and there is always a new issue or a new project that needs to be implemented. ”

We are all passionate about our work and always do our best. We rarely refuse a request and see new, complex projects as a challenge that needs to be addressed. ”

Kenum said GIS is committed to creating apps to help everyone by making information available at the touch of a button. Citizens can search for the nearest park, paths on the green path, search for a new pet, conduct a genealogical search of the local cemetery and find local species in the area.

Because her staff has a “heart for public service,” Kenum said every team member is willing to help in any way they can.

“Everyone in the department has their own special skills, there is a friend among the staff,” she said. “If one person doesn’t know how to do something, others will come to the rescue.”

What’s next

Not surprisingly, over the past 20 years, the department has received numerous awards for innovative work. These include awards for outstanding achievements in GIS, as well as recognition for assistance in specialized projects from the Huntsville-Madison County Emergency Management Agency, Community Development and Base Reconstruction and Closure Council (BRAC).

Over the past two decades, the office has grown to 15 employees and has established itself as the driving force that makes Huntsville the best. Naturally, Kenum is looking forward to the future.

“GIS is such a rapidly changing technology that the sky is truly the frontier,” she said. “I expect that in the next 10 years, our GIS services and applications will continue to grow and become more advanced than ever before. With the support of our mayor, department heads and innovation staff, I am very pleased to see what will continue to develop in our department. “

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