Local governments get smarter about land use

It isn't exactly Google Earth, but Beacon GIS software from Schneider Corp. is helping municipalities like Pettis County, Missouri, get smarter about land use and planning.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

Lest you imagine that the idea of a smart city exists somewhere in a far-off future, an effort being spearheaded by Schneider Corp. is bringing real applications to municipalities across the U.S. midwest and southeast regions in the here and now.

Schneider's products include engineering surveys and geographic systems, including Beacon, which is an application for digitizing and searching public records. For an idea of the value Beacon can bring to a town or region, I spoke with Rusty Kahrs, commissioner for Pettis County, Missouri.

Pettis has been using Beacon for roughly five years, but he says it wasn't until a series of tornados struck the region in 2006 that the full value of the application really revealed itself. During the wake of the crisis, the county was able to use the software to guide search and rescue operations. When the region was declared a disaster area, Beacon became a pivotal part of the rebuilding process -- helping it win a $3 million grant to build storm shelters (aka "community safe rooms") throughout the region, Kahrs says. Let me explain: Using Beacon, Pettis team was about to map out logical locations for the shelters. It had some pretty specific requirements: It wanted to ensure that all residents were within three miles of a shelter location. It also needed to know where shelters made the most sense. So, for example, it was more likely to site them in a place where fewer homes had their own basements. You get the idea.

Here's the obligatory groundbreaking photo:

(Pictured L. to R.: Western Commissioner Larry Wilson, Mayor of LaMonte Bill Hering, Eastern Commissioner Rod Lindemann, and Presiding Commissioner Rusty Kahrs)

As you might imagine, this sort of thing would have taken days to handle manually, but Pettis County was able to build its case in a matter of hours. "We were one of the first applications [for FEMA] funds and definitely were one of the fastest to get funds," Kahrs says.

Everyone plays a role in keeping the information in the application up-to-date. When local architects and contractors finish projects, they feed the information into the software. Ditto utilities, when they do things like add natural gas pipelines. Here's a link to its map database.

How else might the software be used? Here are a couple of other examples:

  • Hamilton Southeast Utilities in Indiana is using Schneider's technology to run a "Call Before You Dig" application, which manages more than 18,000 requests annually throughout three townships.
  • Another Indiana community is using the software to create a database of "distressed" properties and lands that are ripe for economic development.

Jeff Corns, vice president of GIS for Schneider, says in one instance, a town was able to "find" $34 million in missing property assets that weren't being taxed. "All are faced with the issues of increasing revenue, lower cost or reducing risk," Corns says.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

Editorial standards