“Nearly every service the county provides is based on the parcel number or address,” says Tom Homan, Gila County’s GIS system supervisor. “Everyone from the Sheriff’s Office Dispatch and Patrol to Health Department to Elections uses GIS data in their work.”
GIS stands for “Geographic Information Systems,” a concept Homan is adept at demystifying.
“GIS data is no different than the phone book,” Homan explains, “except each address has the additional component of coordinates.”
GIS data provides spatial information about a parcel, not just what number it is on the street.
Gathering complete and accurate GIS data has been a years-long process at Gila County that is nearing completion. Homan estimates that they’re close to 90 percent done and hope to have a publicly accessible data source for parcel information available within a year. This project has been a collaboration between the Gila County Assessor’s Office and Public Works, where GIS is housed.
Homan also works together with municipalities in Gila County to ensure the data is developed accurately and can be put to the best use for constituents.
Homan says that Gila County is at an advantage because of its small size and relatively small number of parcels.
“Our deliberate, methodical process is really something that isn’t done by most communities,” says Homan.
Due to its size, Gila County has the ability to work to a high degree of accuracy at a lower cost.
“The Rural Addressing program is a critical component of the county’s 911 system along with other GIS data,” states Homan. Especially because the majority of 911 calls are placed from cellphones, multiple GIS data sets play an essential part in public safety. Some of the more common data sets utilized in 911 are structure address points, street centerlines, jurisdictional limits along with law, fire and medical service boundaries. Homan explains that when someone makes a 911 call from a cellphone, dispatch sees coordinates rather than a street address. Using GIS data that Homan is responsible for keeping updated, dispatch is able to place those coordinates on a map, see the roads in the area, and know how to get help there as quickly as possible.
Homan says that he often fields questions from residents with concerns about the accuracy of Google Maps. For example, “If Google is wrong, how are emergency services going to get to me?” His response is simple: “We don’t use Google. We use much higher accuracy data.”
Although the county has no control over Google Maps or others such as Apple or Bing maps as third party data sources, Homan says there is an avenue for private individuals to submit changes. He suggests going to http://www.gps.gov and reporting the problem there. He estimates that the review process for changes submitted through http://www.gps.gov may take up to six weeks.
According to Homan, addressing is just not for 911, but also for development of the county.
“Improvements to undeveloped property in the unincorporated areas of Gila County starts with assigning an address. APS will not bring permanent power to a property without an address nor will Community Development issue a permit,” explains Homan. He responds to rural addressing requests from members of the public, contractors, real estate agents, and others.
Public Works also uses GIS data for accurate right of way management and to build the dirt road blading map and schedule available to the public at http://gis.gilacountyaz.gov.