May 18, 2010 By Russell Nichols
Residents in Douglas County, Nev., no longer have to waste their gas driving to one of the county offices just to find out if their house is in a flood zone.
In May, as part of an ongoing push to promote transparency, the county unveiled its new open source, Web-based mapping application that offers free 24-hour access to an array of property data: parcels, aerial photography, land use, zoning, public lands, voting precinct information, etc.
"If you have a question about your property at midnight, you can get online and look it up," said Eric Schmidt, the county's GIS supervisor. "You don't have to physically come into one of the county offices and see the maps and aerial photography."
In recent years, many municipalities have deployed such tools to improve citizen access to information, and the Internet has enhanced the ways governments deliver the data.
"Over the last several years, we've seen a move toward Web-enabling many of our traditional GIS technologies, which has taken us into some really different opportunities to apply applications, which I think has dramatically changed the landscape for us," John Olesak, then director of Northrop Grumman's Geospatial Intelligence Operating Unit, explained to Government Technology in 2008.
In Douglas County, home to some 50,000 residents, officials decided to use open source software to cut costs, especially in budget-crunching times. The bulk of the expenses, Schmidt said, went to development consulting and Web hosting.
"The bang for the buck for the taxpayers was off the charts," Schmidt said, adding that the county is also in the process of upgrading its GIS platform.
The application is available at www.douglascountynv.gov. Click the mapping application link under online services on the left side of the page. Users can perform property data searches based on a street address, assessor parcel numbers or the owner's name. They can export the data and maps as PDF files. The county only recently started tracking statistics, but Schmidt said the office has received calls and e-mails from people interested in receiving training. County officials, he added, plan to start training the local library staff on the new application soon.
He said he sees innumerable uses for this mapping app, not just for residents, but also real estate agencies, banks and insurance companies because it bolsters aerial photography with specific local data.
"Google Earth can't tell you whether or not you're in a flood zone," he said, "or who your next-door landowners are. The low-cost solution provides a tremendous expansion of public service."