There’s a lot happening in Milton every day, above ground and underneath, too.
The details are told by the lines and symbols of the city’s GIS (Geographical Information System), which tracks water, gas and sewer lines, light posts, flood zones, voting districts, city-owned trees, manhole covers and innumerable other bits of data.
This information pays results for city residents, businesses and employees.
Thanks to GIS, firefighters know the location of the nearest hydrant even before they reach the scene of a fire.
If a water main breaks, GIS shows where the nearest valve is located, meaning workers can limit the disruption. With more than 1,000 valves in the utility systems, that’s important.
“If we know where the closest valve is, we may be able to turn off water to just 10 homes instead of 100,” says City Manager Brian Watkins. “We can isolate it down to the smallest part.”
And citizens can get quick answers from City Hall when they call to ask if they’re eligible for sewer hookup or other services.
It’s computerized, much handier than reviewing dusty maps or relying on someone’s memory.
Watkins says GIS saves time and money and makes information more readily available to citizens. He has been a strong advocate of the system since he became city manager six years ago.
“It captures the corporate knowledge that one employee might have accumulated over years and years of service,” he said.
It’s also more precise, says Tim Milstead, the city’s current planner.
Workers often go into the field with hand-held Global Positioning Systems to get exact locations and other data that is much more reliable than the information gathered in the pencil-and-paper era. Many utility lines, for instance, were installed decades ago, when few records were maintained. Before GIS, employees might not know the size of the lines, an important factor in delivering services.
“The technology is constantly improving,” says Milstead, who uses the information to help citizens, business owners and developers interested in various details.
Milstead oversees the GIS program along with city employees and interns from the University of West Florida. GIS is such a big and growing field now that UWF offers a certification program for students who see the career potential.
The city’s team works closely with Santa Rosa County’s GIS department to collect information and eliminate overlap.
“We’re able to share our data. We’re able to share their data,” Milstead said. “They do a really good job of keeping that data up to date.”
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