Geographic Information System (GIS), Mapping an Iowa County

(GIS in action)

When Black Hawk County, Iowa, adopted geographical information systems technology nearly a decade ago, it was considered to be merely a frill

Over the years, it has morphed into a critical component for running the county government more efficiently.

  • "I don't think a majority of the people know how powerful this technology is," said Kim Veeder, interim director of the county's information technology department.
  • At its basis, the technology, known simply as GIS, allows for digitized maps.
  • County GIS coordinator Barb Berquam said it isn't the maps that are necessarily impressive, but the attribute information that could be connected to them, making them interactive.
  • On a Web-based program accessible to the public, a user can pull up a map of anywhere in the county showing individual lots.
  • With a couple of clicks of a computer mouse, a user can find out who the property owner is, see what the home is valued at and even see a picture of the property, among other data.
  • "It's not just a little bit of information tucked into the corner of the courthouse. It is used by all county departments, and we are using it in ways that we couldn't have imagined back when we started," Veeder said. "It just grows and grows and grows."
  • In the Health Department, the mapping technology is used to track the concentration of mosquitoes and treatment efforts.
  • "GIS helps us determine problem areas that need to be treated," health officer Lisa Swanson said. "We used to print out a really rough map and draw all over it. Now, it's just going on the computer."
  • The Health Department also has used GIS to track lead-poisoning concentration in the county. A map can be drawn showing which areas of the county have a high number of children with lead poisoning.
  • That's just a sample of what the Health Department uses GIS for. It is running 14 different GIS projects. Countywide, more than 12 departments utilize the technology.
  • The Emergency Management Agency has used the technology to identify sheltering areas within the county.

  • "We've created a map so we can bring up public buildings, particularly schools, and can instantly bring up photos and their floor plans," said Frank Magsamen, emergency management coordinator.
  • One of the latest GIS projects emergency management is developing is mapping out where special-needs residents live so they can be assisted in an evacuation.
  • The efficiency wrought by GIS is paying off, said county assessor Vicki Atkins. She advocated for the technology a decade ago.
  • "The computer technology has just made everything we do so much easier and better," Atkins said.
  • In the coming weeks, a new online feature will be added for public use.
  • Users can see online zoning maps of Waterloo and Cedar Falls, with links explaining what the different zoning classifications mean. Zoning information already is available for other towns in Black Hawk County.
  • "This is the future, and we're going to plug into it," said county Board of Supervisor Chairman Leon Mosley. "I am grateful for the GIS people for looking ahead and getting the county involved in it. They are forward-thinking people."
These clips come from the article, "Black Hawk County uses
geographical information systems technology to map county"
by Brandon Couitre, WCF Courier Staff Writer, December 4, 2005.

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