A Rising Interest in Emergency Event Support

Fast Forward to Better Service, Delivery, and Performance!

In October 2015, the city and village managers in the GIS Consortium approved a recommendation made by leaders from their communities, to negotiate with Accela for the purchase of their Customer Relationship Management solution (formerly PublicStuff). Prior to this recommendation, the communities engaged in this project were using a variety of methods to track requests for service. The common challenge was that they were unable to easily share the information with each other or with the public, and this wasted valuable staff time. This is a short explanation of key accomplishments the Citizen Service Request Workgroup made in just 1 years’ time, which is really something to celebrate! 


Negotiating a Win-Win Agreement with Accela 

By the end of January 2016, the communities approached Accela as a group to create a one-of-a-kind agreement. This agreement assists communities with receiving discounts on the annual subscription cost of the software, the cost per integration, the cost for add-on features, and a reduction in the percentage for future price increases. As a result of creating this unique agreementAccela benefits by onboarding many new clients at once, establishing stronger presence in Illinois, and lowering their cost of sales. 


Standards and Governance 

By the end of February 2016, the communities standardized a list of service request types and definitions. The group that spearheaded this effort worked diligently to ensure the standards mirrored what a typical resident would requestSome examples of these include: Fallen Tree Limb, Construction Concern, Graffiti, Tall Grass and Weeds, Street Light Out, and Water Quality Concern.  The solution offers communities the best of both worlds: structure and flexibility with the administration of the system  


8 Communities Launch Initiative in the First Year! 

A short six months into the initiative, four communities have already gone live with the system: Lincolnwood, Downers Grove, Riverside, and Des Plaines!  Elk Grove Village, Mount Prospect, Buffalo Grove, and Norridge are set to launch before the end of 2016Here is what a couple of them have to say since their implementation: 


Doug Petroshius, Assistant Village Manager in Lincolnwood says, “In Lincolnwood the CRM is enhancing communication by providing residents updates on service requests, by making it easy to access the village staff directory, and by receiving priority information from the village through push notifications. The Village of Lincolnwood app has also been well received by the Board members and other community leaders.” 


Megan Miles, Downers Grove Management Analyst says, Our staff found the system easy to learn and use, and that benefits our residents because we have a good tool that allows us to quickly find and relay information to them.” 


Planning for the Future 

Only a year ago, this project collaboration was merely an idea to solve two prevalent pain points: to enhance communication and service to residents, and to provide a more robust, user friendly tool for community staff. The leaders of this GIS Consortium initiative made these outcomes possible and we congratulate all of them for this tremendous accomplishment. The year 2016 produced robust advancementsand we can’t wait to see what 2017 brings!  

Take the Lead 

Discover, innovate, and collaborate with the GIS Consortium today! Contact your community’s GIS Specialist to discuss project opportunities, Consortium services, and GIS.  

If you would like to learn more about this initiative or if you have questions, please contact agrahovac@mgpinc.com. 


Author: Maria Storm, MGP Client Experience Manager

Importing Data from CAD into GIS

The City of Des Plaines, IL is fortunate to have a talented in house engineering staff that designs and manages many of the city’s infrastructure projects.  As a part of the construction process the engineers create plans using CAD (Computer Aided Design).  These plans show what is being constructed and also details about the pipes and structures being installed.  In addition to these construction plans, the city’s utility system information is also inputted and tracked in the city’s robust Geographic Information System (GIS).  This allows all staff to view the utilities in a web-based mapping application called MapOffice™ and also be used for analysis in the GIS desktop software.  The current process of inputting data into GIS is slow and inefficient.  Once the engineer completes their plans they are given to the GIS Specialist, who then draws the data in GIS.  This current workflow has a duplication of efforts, and the turnaround time can be quite high. 

To alleviate this slow turnaround time, a city engineer and the GIS Specialist worked together to determine if there was a more efficient workflow that could be used to get the location information and data from CAD to GIS.  It was determined that that if the engineer was to use a pipe network, which is a component of the CAD software, when entering their plans that data could easily be moved from CAD to GIS with little to no manual effort needed on the GIS side.  Pipe networks allow engineers to utilize what’s called a part catalog, which stores more information about the features being installed than if they were simply drawn in.  Using the pipe network allowed the GIS staff to export the network using a process provided by the CAD environment and then import the data directly into GIS. 

This process saves a significant amount of time and also removes the duplication of effort since the utility information is only being drawn once.  To further improve this process GIS staff will collaborate with all the city’s engineers to build their pipe network catalog to contain as much useful information as possible, which will allow it to integrate seamlessly into the GIS database structure. 

ArcGIS Online Pavement Marking Collection


The City of Des Plaines has been looking to create an inventory of the city owned pavement markings.  In the past, they’ve had workers use aerial imagery in the office or paper maps out in the field to update the information.  Unfortunately, the aerial imagery is not always current and sending people out in the field with paper maps can be time consuming when the data is brought back into the office and has to be implemented into the database by hand.  The Engineering Department has been looking for a way to collect the information out in the field and update the databases without having to use paper maps.

A project was created in ESRI’s ArcGIS Online program that allows the user to collect pavement marking information in the field using the Collector Mobile Application.  The Collector Application allows the user to add in pavement marking lines and accompanying attribute information in the field using a mobile device like an iPad or Android Tablet.  The application has the aerial imagery and base map data for the city, so the user can place pavement marking features in the exact location regardless of imagery vintage.  This eliminates the need to collect the information in the field on paper and then bring it back into the office to have someone manually update the information in the GIS system.  With the Collector Application, the updates are either synched in real-time out in the field or loaded into the system in a one step process in the office.  By using GIS, the Engineering department was able to come up with a solution for updating pavement marking data in the field, eliminating the need for someone to collect the information in the field and then manually update the information.

Street Sign Inventory Field Collection


As part of the MUTCD Sign Retroreflectivity program, communities are required to keep an inventory of their existing street signs which they will then use to create a maintenance program for sign retroflectivity.  The City of Des Plaines has a sign inventory that they have created in the past, but they wanted to make sure their inventory was up-to-date.  They determined that they wanted to send employees out in the field to confirm existing sign locations and collect any additional signs or information.

The City of Des Plaines decided to use the ArcGIS Online Collector Application to capture missing sign locations and information.  The Collector Application is a program that can be downloaded to most mobile devices that allows the user to capture GIS field data, such as point locations and attribute information, and then sync the data back with the main database.  The City of Des Plaines is using an Apple iPad with offline editing, meaning that all the changes are stored on the device and then when an online collection is established back in the office, the changes are then synched.  The Collector Application is set up so that the user only has to place sign or post locations and then choose from drop down menus for any of the sign attributes.  This allows the user to quickly place locations and add in the necessary information, without wasting any time.  By using the Collector App and GIS, the City of Des Plaines is quickly revising their Sign Inventory in conjunction with the MUTCD Sign Retroreflectivity Program.

Using GIS to Assist in the Bid Process

​The Des Plaines Fire Department is on duty 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.  Challenges providing emergency services change with the seasons.  One of the largest hindrances to Fire Fighters in the winter is snow.  When Mother Nature pounds the city with snow for months the snow piles grow exponentially, as residents shovel driveways and municipalities plow roads.  Fire hydrants along the road easily become covered with snow, which makes them much harder to find in an emergency situation.  While Public Works, the Fire Department, and volunteer residents work to keep the hydrants clear, when a heavy snowfall occurs it is nearly impossible to keep all the hydrants visible. 

The Des Plaines City Council approved a proposal to add markers (5 foot tall poles with a flag on top) to fire hydrants to make them more visible in the winter months.  Fire Chief Wax decided that initially they wanted to mark all hydrants in cul-de-sacs and on roads with 4 lanes, as these locations collect the most snow. 


The Fire Department utilized GIS to determine how many hydrants were in these specific locations.  Cul-de-sacs and 4 lane roads were located in GIS and then a simple search of hydrants within a specified distance was performed.  By utilizing GIS and GIS data the Fire Department was able to give a very accurate estimation of the number of markers that were going to be needed.  The actual number needed was smaller than originally estimated, so the project will come in under budget.  Mapbooks of the hydrant locations were created and given to project bidders to aid in their bid estimate and will be utilized again when placing the markers on the hydrants.  By teaming together the Fire and GIS Departments were able to provide an quick and efficient bidding process, which in the end will benefit the city and its residents.

Creating Legal Descriptions using GIS

The City of Des Plaines has a number of TIF Districts, as known as Tax Incremental Financing Districts.  A TIF is a method of public financing that is used to subsidize redevelopment, infrastructure and other city projects.  When a TIF is not functioning as it should it can become a hindrance to development within the district.  In these cases the TIF agreements and districts should be re-evaluated.


TIF 6 in Des Plaines is being redrawn and a new TIF District, TIF 7, is being created.  The TIF agreements need to have legal descriptions included with them to describe the land within the district.  GIS was able to assist the Community Development Department with drawing the legal descriptions and determining their accuracy.  

The legal descriptions that were created by the city staff, were drawn out in GIS using the calls, which consist of a northing, easting and distance such as, north 87 degrees 44 minutes 30 seconds east for 316.065 feet.  A legal description always begins with point of beginning and then a series of calls describe the boundary and eventually ends with a final call that brings the shape back to the point of beginning.  This allowed staff to see where there were potential errors in their original descriptions.  The GIS Department was then tasked with creating updated legal descriptions.  This was a relatively quick and easy process.  The COGO, coordinate geometry, toolset was utilized to determine the calls that were needed to create an initial accurate legal description, to be used for in house purposes. 

Using GIS for Car Dealership Location Analysis


Municipalities across the Unites States are attempting to make themselves business friendly in order to attract and keep businesses within their borders. The City of Des Plaines is no different.  Recently, there has been interest in opening a car dealership in Des Plaines.  Car Dealerships are different from other businesses, since they are franchised there are location regulations based on current dealership territories.  

The City Manager’s office requested a regional map of the Chicagoland area showing the location of specific dealerships and a seven mile radius around each of the locations.  This allowed them to know what manufacturers would be candidates for having a dealership in the City without infringing on any other territories.  

ESRI’s world geocoding service was utilized to place the points regionally.  The requested buffers were then created using tools within ArcGIS.  Separate regional maps were then made for each manufacturer highlighting the buffers and the City of Des Plaines, making them easy to read and decipher.  The maps were then used in a report related to possible available locations.  GIS allowed the City to confidently discuss and support the available economic opportunities here in Des Plaines.   

New Fire Station Wall Maps Created


With the recent decision to join the RED Center, Regional Emergency Dispatch Center, the Des Plaines Fire Department has had to make several changes in order to fit into the RED model.  Part of these changes includes a new numbering system for their fire response grid.  With all of these changes taking place it seemed to be an ideal time to create new large maps to hang in the fire station garages.  The current maps are showing their age, and are now longer accurate because of the RED Center transition.  

The process began with the Fire Department reviewing their data (i.e. district boundaries, automatic aid, tollway response areas, and response grid).  The GIS Department posted the various datasets to MapOffice in order for the Fire Staff to review them.  The Chief and Deputy Chief identified what areas needed to be revised and updated.  The GIS department then made the requested changes to the GIS data in the database.   

Once the data was made current, the GIS Department and Fire Department worked together to decide what information should be included in the map, how it should be symbolized and determine the most useful layout for their new wall maps.  A new design of the street index was requested as well as customized legends for the tollway response index and fire grid response index.  These items were then created by the GIS Department and included in the map.  The map went through several rounds of review and was finally brought to a RED Center operations meeting for a final review.  At this meeting final decisions were made regarding the tollway response areas.  Since all of the data was stored locally in the GIS database revisions were quick and easy to make.   

By working together the GIS department was able to create the most useful map for the fire department and a new system for updating these maps was put in place, so as not to allow maps to become severely dated in the future.  

GIS Assists with Fire Department Dispatch Transition


In September of 2013 the Des Plaines City Council approved allowing the Fire Department to switch dispatch services from the Des Plaines Emergency Communication Center (DPECC) to Regional Emergency Dispatch (RED) Center.  RED Center is a consortium of 14 area fire departments, located in Northbrook, which provides dispatch services. 

Changing dispatch providers is large undertaking which involves many moving parts.  Every detail is of the utmost importance because residents’ lives depend on the response time of emergency services.  One of the biggest components of the transition was providing RED with the address data for the entire city.

In order for the address data to be input into RED’s computer aided dispatch (CAD) system the Fire Department needed to determine the street address ranges of every road segment.  Road segments were determined by splitting roads at intersections.  Intersections include anything that crosses the road such as another road, railroad, trail or river.  The Des Plaines Fire Department utilized GIS and GIS data in order to construct the address information needed by RED.  Using tools within ArcGIS the street address range and intersection data were combined in order to create address ranges on the left and right side for each road segment.  Fire response grid data was also applied to the newly created address ranges in order to determine which response grid they fall within.  By utilizing GIS and its available tools the Fire Department was able rely on a mostly automated process to create the necessary data rather than an entirely manual review which would have taken a lot more time and would have been subject to a greater risk of human error.