Will County wins Distinguished Service award for mapping system
JOLIET – A mapping system designed with the intent of improving public safety has won a Distinguished System award for the Will County Geographic Information System Department.
The Will County Master Address Point System, which was completed early this year, contains about 400,000 Will County addresses that can be accessed by all County offices, helping employees better serve residents.
Tong Zhou, GIS Director, accepted the Exemplary Systems in Government Distinguished System Award from the Urban and Regional Information System Association from URISA President Greg Babinski at the organization’s 50th annual conference in Portland, Ore. Zhou also gave a presentation about the system at the conference.
URISA is a leading association for GIS Professionals with members from around the world. According to its website, URISA’s ESIG Awards “recognize exceptional achievements in the application of information technology that have improved the delivery and quality of government services.”
Getting the system up and running was a years-long process for Zhou and his four-person staff, three of whom were on board from start to finish. Zhou learned about the proposed project when he interviewed for his position with Will County in 2006.
“At that time this was a priority project for (County Executive Larry Walsh),” said Zhou. “Once I got on board to the GIS department (in 2007), we started moving forward this project under the guidance of the Executive office.”
Walsh said that in 2007 his main concern had been resident safety and the ability of 911 to get accurate addresses to use in emergencies. The completed project, however, is a boon for all of the departments.
“I’m very proud of our GIS Department and its director, Tong Zhou, and how professionally they handled this major undertaking,” Walsh said. “At the end of the day, we not only have a state-of-the-art system, we are able to expedite service to our residents.”
Steve Figved, Chief Administrator of the County’s 911 system, agreed. His office had been urging such a system be developed since his GIS/Addressing Manager Barb Steffen first began collaborating with a member of the County GIS on the idea in 2004. Walsh picked up the torch when he became County Executive.
Figved explained that in addition to “scrubbing” out incorrect information, the system now includes reference points which help guide emergency responders by “virtually pinpointing a location.”
“It’s working out really good for us.”
Zhou wrote in the nomination that many Will County departments and agencies use addresses when providing services to the general public on a daily basis. Services such as dispatching responders to 911 calls, providing timely disaster assistance, tracking diseases, validating voter registrations and deciding land use cases all required addresses.
However, prior to 2007 the information was gathered and stored inconsistently. Some departments had built up their own address databases through their day-to-day interactions with constituents using paper application forms, commercial and municipal sources and through the county’s addressing authority for unincorporated areas.
Some departments only had the information available on paper, and many had not been checked for accuracy or included errors that had accumulated over the years. The databases were unable to be linked to each other because there were no common formats.
“Most importantly,” Zhou wrote to URISA, “none of them had a one-to-one spatial relationship between an address and the property of that address. Since so many critical functions of county government require precise address and location information, the need to have an accurate and point‐based single address system, capable of pinpointing exact locations, was greater than ever.”
The Will County Master Address Point System is used for cross-referencing addresses or system integrations requiring address information and location intelligence. It has improved accuracy and reduced staff time previously spent taking calls regarding addressing errors.
Zhou said that even though County rules only cover unincorporated areas, his staff incorporated information from the municipalities so that they built a complete address system for Will County.
MAP will be maintained by Figved’s office as people begin to build again and new residences or businesses need an address. “All addresses start with 911.”
URISA only recognized three governmental entities this year. In addition to Will County, they are Orange County, Fla., and Griffith ACT, Australia.