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Online Maps Point To Services
Release Date: August 01, 2006

Online maps point to services

Westchester County, N.Y.

Residents in most counties can visit their local government's Web site to find the address of the local library. Westchester County, N.Y., residents, however, can visit and not only find the address of the library nearest to them, but also print an interactive map and directions.

Several years ago, Westchester County officials decided they could better meet residents' needs with interactive online mapping services. They decided to integrate geographic information system (GIS) technology — which had been limited to internal land use and environmental operations — into critical public services. The initiative, called “Mapping Westchester County,” was designed to support the county's emergency response and public safety services, infrastructure management, transportation planning and land information systems.

In April 2005, the Westchester County GIS staff redesigned its central GIS Web mapping program, which was funded through the information technology department's budget. The redesign consolidated previously disparate programs into one unified Web portal. As an access point to several mapping programs, the portal offers GIS functions and layers of previously unavailable data. Each component was designed to meet needs that had been identified at the county level or out in the community, says Ana Hiraldo, GIS specialist.

For example, under “Find Your Elected Officials,” residents enter their addresses and find information about their elected officials, and directions and a map to their polling places. The “Community Facility Locator” provides the locations of more than 2,000 community facilities, including daycare centers, bus stops, schools, hospitals, libraries, train stations and beaches. The Web site, which receives 13,000 hits each day, even helps residents find the lowest gas prices.

GIS data layers were grouped into five categories: land use and environmental, districts, facilities, transportation and the 2000 census. Users can open “folders” in the map legend to view GIS layers in greater detail. “Based on the topic, users only see the layer that is appropriate to that topic,” says Norm Jacknis, the county's chief information officer. “We're trying to make it as easy as possible and give you geographical information — even if you don't know that's what you're getting.”

Westchester County GIS recently added an aerial photo layer to its Web site and soon will add a hurricane zone component. It is working with the county's 43 local governments to integrate their data into the Web site so residents will have a one-stop online resource for geographic information. In addition, next year the county will begin offering GIS-based information over the phone through a speech-recognition program, Jacknis says.

Ultimately, Jacknis believes all county data should be geo-coded, even the county employee list. “Once you have the information geo-coded and available through GIS, it opens up all kinds of possibilities for you,” he says. “This is a fundamental technology that every government organization ought to have in the same way that they have networks.”

Agencies/companies involved: Westchester County, N.Y., Department of Information Technology; and Bowne Management Systems, Mineola, N.Y.

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