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 Municipality of Anchorage, 1978-1999: Twenty Years of Esri-Based GIS (Are we smarter now than we were then?)
Track:  State and Local Government
Author:   Charles E. Barnwell
Michael J. Meehan
The Municipality of Anchorage (MOA) first initiated GIS in 1978 with a study entitled "Anchorage Geographic Information System Study," by Esri, authored by Jack Dangermond, with MOA management by Michael Meehan. This was an extensive study analyzing GIS requirements and included a conceptual design and implementation plan. Many of the findings of this study are still valid today, and in fact are still in the process of implementation. The primary goal of GIS then was to make true data integration possible--not only to see things spatially, but also holistically to integrate the many facets of data that a municipal government has. One of the objectives of this paper is to address what have we learned since 1978 and whether we are doing things smarter. Have we achieved the goals laid out by Jack Dangermond and Mike Meehan (MOA) in 1978? In 1982, MOA purchased an ARC/INFO license and PRIME computer (MOA is Esri customer No. 3). The 1980s were a time of massive data capture and building a GIS infrastructure. Staff were developed at that time, some of whom have gone on to be leaders in the GIS field (Tony Burns now with Esri; Emily Binnian now with USGS; Steve Colligan of GeoNorth, Kimball Forrest, RDI; Charles Barnwell, Esri, MOA). The largest challenge at that time was first simply getting the software and hardware to work. Secondly, getting to the point of capturing accurate GIS data on a local government scale of Anchorage was a huge challenge. By 1984, the majority of Anchorage was digitized at 1:500. By the end of the 1980s a large amount of quality data had been captured. The next challenge, which still faces us, is accomplishing true data integration. Local governments are unique in that they contain a rich assemblage of data that is vertically deep. That is, there are many data layers in a typical city, which ideally should be integrated in order to make GIS truly useful for the whole enterprise. Anchorage is a good example, with over 100 data layers collected since 1983. The potential is enormous for serving the many departments with useful information. MOA has among its user departments health, public works, planning, fire, police, transportation, and information systems. All of these departments utilize common GIS data, and they coordinate with each other on the development and maintenance of GIS data. However, the largest challenge remains to integrate the many vertical types of data so that there is a "common ground" to work on. What tools do we use? What organization do we establish to make this possible? We are engaged in some exciting efforts that reflect the state of GIS today. The advent of desktop GIS, Web GIS tools, and SDE will enable us to achieve our goals on a corporatewide scale. I will briefly show examples of projects we are currently involved in that make use of this technology: ArcView GIS, IMS, and SDE. On the organizational front, despite 20 years of GIS, it was not until late 1997 that a corporate GIS group was established by the MOA executive manager to pool the various MOA GIS efforts. This was needed to reduce the duplicative GIS efforts in many departments and to achieve the goal of citywide data integration. To this end, we are currently engaged in a project headquartered at the Information Systems Department (MISD) to create a "framework" corporate database that can be utilized by the whole enterprise and be as nearly transparently accessible as possible using new technologies such as Internet Map Server. The key initiatives and technologies that we see critical to our effort are the FGDC clearinghouse initiative, which we are a participant in, and SDE and the Internet. SDE will help us establish an open standards-based framework that enables full data integration across multiple departments. Internet-based technologies will make GIS and related data accessible not only to the municipal enterprise but to the public. In this fashion, we hope to close the loop on one of the original goals laid out in 1978--an integrated GIS database that provides a common ground for potentially all municipal departments to base decisions on.

Charles E. Barnwell
Municipality of Anchorage
3740 W. Dimond Blvd.
Anchorage, AK99515

Telephone: (907)343-6813
Fax: (907)343-4567