Enhancing GIS Functionality with Base Station Technology

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Hamilton Southeastern Utilities, Inc. (HSE) in Fishers, Indiana serves more than 36,000 customers in three townships of Hamilton County. Fishers is roughly 20 miles north of downtown Indianapolis and Hamilton County is one of the fastest growing in the nation–between 2000 and 2002, population in Hamilton County increased by 12.5 percent, and the trend is expected to continue. Along with this rapid growth in population and real estate development, the demand for utility services has also increased dramatically. In response to these increasing demands on its resources, HSE has drawn on its GIS to streamline processes and increase productivity.

The HSE GIS was first implemented about 10 years ago by The Schneider Corporation, an Indianapolis-based consulting firm with expertise in civil engineering, GIS and surveying. Schneider has continued to develop solutions that combine GPS and GIS technologies and, in meeting the goals of its facility management contractor, Sanitary Management and Engineering Company (SAMCO), it has implemented them at HSE.

Beginning in 2004, as a member of the Indiana Utility Plant Protections System (IUPPS), HSE provides one-call utility locate services. In 2003, HSE processed approximately 600 locate requests and in 2004, expects to service 16,000 to 18,000 requests. Currently, the HSE growth rate adds approximately 1,600 new sewer connections a year. One of the benefits of the H S E GIS is being able to keep up with the growth rate, and demand for new services and utility information with a smaller staff.

Out-of-the-Truck Functionality
Schneider’s goal was to create a system that featured "out of the truck" functionality for communicating RTK GPS correction data. Traditionally, RTK solutions have required an on-site mobile base station. Once a base station’s position is established, it can broadcast corrections via a radio to the GPS rover. In the utility locate process, this traditional method required moving the mobile base station as the locates were performed in each area. Schneider came up with a solution that eliminates this on-site base station and thus, the costs associated with it. V.linkTM is a software program developed by Schneider which uses a wireless broadband connection to retrieve permanent base station correction data from an IP address. In place of cellular telephones or other traditional wireless communication methods, with V.link, the RTK correction data is communicated via a digital wireless network. Then, the data can be accessed through the Internet with a PDA. A major benefit of V.link is that it supports significantly longer RTK baseline resolutions as compared to those supported by current, traditional methods of communicating correction data.

Among the advantages of a PDAbased over a cellular telephone-based system are computing power and being able to use cellular phones for voice communication rather than data transfer. The introduction of a pull-down menu is one of the recent improvements to V.link. In the field, personnel can select base stations listed on a pull-down menu directly through the rover. Also, V.link allows field personnel to manually enter I P addresses and port information in order to access base stations that are not listed on the pull-down menu. This feature is very useful with "in the field" operations. Though V.link was initially created for internal use; Schneider has recently offered this product to the public. Through V.link and the installation of permanent base stations, Schneider and HSE have both seen increases in productivity and efficiency.

Schneider has three permanent base stations in Indiana–in Indianapolis, Avon, and Lafayette. With the base station network and V.link, they can now access real-time GPS correction data throughout most of central Indiana.
Holey Moley!
The utility locate application V.locateTM created by Schneider and launched in May 2004 utilizes the V.link system. Users may request a utility locate through IUPPS by telephone, facsimile, or online. IUPPS compares the location requested to the service area of all utility providers to determine those needed to be contacted. If the location submitted falls within the HSE district boundary, an email is sent to SAMCO’s Holey Moley email account. The V.locate application takes over from this point. Running in ArcMap, V.locate receives these emails at a given, user-defined interval. Key information is pulled out of each email and entered into records in a geodatabase. V.locate attempts to locate the request by latitude and longitude, then by subdivision name and lot number, then by street name and address and lastly by grid section (15" X 15").

If this location is not found, the record is marked as such and the request is forwarded via email with the error message. If the location is found, the geometry of that parcel is added to the database and a query is performed to detect if any H S E facilities fall within that geometry or near it based upon a user-defined buffer surrounding the geometry. If no facilities are found in the geometry and buffer, an email is forwarded with the request, a map image of the area, and a message that no facilities were found. If facilities are found in the geometry and buffer, an email is forwarded with the request, a map image is once again produced along with a comma delimited point file of all of the surveyed facility points within that area. This email can be sent to a central address or to responsible personnel. A location request with an emergency status will also send a notification to responsible personnel via pager or cellular telephone. Requests that are too close to call due to their proximity to HSE boundaries are forwarded to SAMCO personnel for manual interpretation by a staff member. The point files created by V.locate are uploaded into the G P S controller so that field personnel, utilizing V.link, can quickly layout, identify, and mark nearby infrastructure.

V.locate also has the functionality of data discrepancy reporting. During the process of staking out an existing utility, physical structure coordinate values are compared to the GIS database and when discrepancies are present, a report is generated automatically. At the same time, the GIS database can be easily and quickly updated with the field located positions.

Multi-Level Website
A multi-level website also maximizes the value of the HSE GIS. Schneider developed and currently maintains a website with HSE’s GIS data and online maps. The site offers various levels of access for the public, contractors, and HSE and SAMCO employees. Each level includes a variety of tools for searching and creating custom views and reports. Access to the engineer and employee levels requires a password. Through the engineer level, engineers and contractors can retrieve real-time GIS data including an attribute table and as-built drawings. At the employee level, users can see all data attributes and also view projects that are pending full approval. HSE maintains the public level as a service to the community. This level shows the location and type of infrastructure, along with some general attributes.

What’s Next?
Many future enhancements are planned for the HSE GIS. The next major project is upgrading the GIS to a full geodatabase, which is critical to increasing productivity and efficiency with utility locate applications. Also, HSE plans to develop a complete GIS-based work order management solution. Improvements planned for V.link include incorporating Bluetooth technology for total wireless deployment in the field with full
GIS capabilities. Currently, the V.link system is not manufacturer specific and can be utilized by any GPS receiver employing the RTCM 104 input/output format.

Acknowledgments: Jim Hart of SAMCO; Jeff Corns, Dave Clark, and John Kantner of The Schneider Corporation

Gary Kent is Director of Surveying at The Schneider Corporation. He is past-president of ACSM and chairs the ALTA committee. He serves on the Indiana Board of Registration, and is the author of the "Reconniassance" column in this magazine.

Bruce Strack is the GPS Manager at the Schneider Corporation. He is a registered Professional Land Surveyor in Indiana and Vice President of the Central Indiana Chapter of the Indiana Society of Professional Land Surveyors.

Michael Morefield is a GIS Project Manager at The Schneider Corporation. He has expertise in a wide range of GIS projects ranging from utility infrastructure conversion to cadastral conversion.

A 1.122Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE

 

About the Author

Gary Kent, PS

Gary Kent is Director, Integrated Services at The Schneider Corporation in Indianapolis. He is past-president of ACSM and chairs the ALTA/ACSM Committee for NSPS and the Liaison Committee for ALTA. He is on the Indiana Board of Registration and lectures both locally and nationally.