A user-friendly and open source GIS application designed exclusively for municipalities

Accumapping” offers a complete geo-spatial solutions for local governments operations, from cadastral planning and decision support systems to full municipal tasks management.

As a consequence of the lack of geographic information management, local governments confront serious problems every day when it comes to decision making, information seeking and dealing with emergencies. This user-friendly GIS application is customized for municipalities.
The main goal of our product is to store, update, analyze, and display all forms of geographically referenced features such as sewage pipe lines, street signs and fire hydrant, as well as place them over a base map or an aerial photograph. This will create an adequate framework for managing location-based data and turn it into useful information.  This customized application is linked to a database system which helps maintain the integrity of spatial data and keep the information updated, allowing the user to perform many types of analyses and solve specific municipal problems.

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Common Problems Confronted by Municipalities

This study takes place in Lebanon, specifically Mount Lebanon (ML) governorate, where municipalities suffer every day because of the lack of geographical information management. This affects the municipalities’ decision making, and thus can have a bad influence on municipal economy and finally become an obstacle when dealing with emergencies. Statistics show that only 12% of the municipalities in ML benefit from GIS advantages and its geospatial analysis capabilities.

Some of the main challenges faced by municipalities during their daily tasks result from the following:

  • Unorganized archive containing duplicate and inaccurate information, as well as different types of documents with no obvious relationship.
  • Un-digitized information (maps, tables, tax reports, legislative documents, all in paper format).
  • Difficulties in updating new information.
  • Unknown locations of pipelines, manholes, electric poles, street signs, fire hydrants etc.

In June of 2014, hundreds of lives were threatened near the natural reserve of “Khandaa Al Rehban - ML” when the municipality couldn’t find the maintenance report of the fire hydrants during a wildfire surrounding urban areas. This situation left firefighters unaware of which hydrants were functional and which were convenient to use in terms of proximity to fire. Hundreds of trees could have been saved had the report been kept as a record in a well-managed geodatabase.
     Another common problem is that of unreliable resources. A large number of municipalities have always relied on a certain employee with several years of service who has each detail regarding the infrastructure network, the location of the manholes, and shutdown valves memorized. Moreover, this employee can even sometimes make a lucky guess about the location and depth of some water pipelines connected to a certain land parcel. However, this does not mean that the collected information is always accurate or reliable. Innumerable hours and amounts of money can be wasted when, for example, excavating in the wrong place in order to repair a certain pipeline that was supposed to be conveying sewage from a certain building, but wasn’t.

The solution to all these problems is found to be in a “geospatial information management system”.

Role of GIS in Solving Conflicts and Supporting Spatial Decision Making

What role does GIS play amongst all of this? How is it even considered as a decision making tool? My answer is : where doesn’t GIS come in to the understanding of local governments’ framework? After all, it’s a “geospatial information management system”.
One of the main income sources for municipalities is Tax Collection. There is a numerous number of software out there that can handle this matter, but not the way GIS does. Besides having the capability of providing reports on residents who have paid their taxes and ones who haven’t, GIS can give the information a geospatial reference and show it through “symbology". Properties with paid taxes are highlighted in violet, whereas the ones with unpaid taxes are highlighted in red. We can clearly conclude that the residents of the street surrounded by red polygons are not pleased with the services they are being offered, for example the road may not be well paved. Also, the municipality must ensure that a proportional amount of money to that of taxes being paid by the residents is being spent on each neighborhood. Fig.2 shows several zones symbolized according to the amount of taxes being paid each year. This way for example, the quality of the services provided to the Red Zone will be different from the one provided to the Yellow Zone, hence the expenses will be equally and fairly distributed. 

Another factor that affects municipal budgets is unsupervised maintenance work. A municipality that weekly receives three complaints about street lamps being out of order, per say, sends its repairmen to buy a new lamp and deal with the problem. One scenario is that the same lamp keeps failing every time.

 If records had been kept for every maintenance operation, the municipal council would have known by then that the source of the problem lies elsewhere. It could be a matter of electric mass, over voltage, or a broken socket. In this case, we can programmatically set the application to signal a warning after the second repair attempt of a certain feature within a predefined period of time.
All sorts of maintenance records can be stored in the geodatabase including road pavement operations, infrastructure repairs, pipes and roads cleaning dates etc.

Data Needed in Order to Obtain a Reliable and Complete GIS

To be able to operate efficiently, GIS software must be connected to a geodatabase providing all the necessary data (spatial and non-spatial). A list of steps to follow in order to obtain a complete database is provided below:

  • Real estate maps:

Must include for each parcel, information about the investment factor, the land subdivision operations that have been implemented in the Land Registry Secretariat, area, owner’s name and if it intersects with the official decree. Corrections can be made using satellite imagery.

  • Superstructure survey:

The survey operation includes touristic and historic sites, public parks, lighting columns, utility poles, buildings with information pertaining to their type (residential, commercial, governmental etc.), status (under construction, under renovation etc.), the condition of the foundation, the existence of a garage etc.

  • Infrastructure Survey:

The survey operation includes sewage pipelines, manholes, rainwater streams, flow direction, communication cables, electric cables, fresh water network etc.

  • Geocoding information
  • Satellite or aerial photography (Must be orthorectified)
  • Road network survey
  • Digital elevation model of the area

Once the survey is done and all the data is gathered, it should be converted into feature class format and imported into a database where relationships must be established.