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City gives crash course on Geographic Information Systems

By: Matt Durnan

  |  Posted: Thursday, Nov 28, 2013 11:03 am

Airdrie GIS Team Leader Chrystal Williams talks to a group that stopped by GIS Day at City Hall on Nov. 20.
Airdrie GIS Team Leader Chrystal Williams talks to a group that stopped by GIS Day at City Hall on Nov. 20.
Matt Durnan/Rocky View Publishing

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The City of Airdrie took part in GIS (Geographic Information Systems) Day for the first time on Nov. 20 at City Hall.

The day has been formally observed since 1999 and for the first time, Airdrie took part by offering an open house to highlight the unique and diverse uses of GIS in the city.

Airdrie’s GIS department is made up of a four-person team, headed by Chrystal Williams.

The GIS team set up council chambers in a science fair layout, with a variety of poster boards and video screens, depicting the many ways that GIS is used around the city.

Firehall response, bus routes, elevations to determine flood zones and radio tower locations, water bodies and snow plow routes (see related story on page 12) are all analyzed by the City’s GIS department.

“You can look at something like the (possible relocation of) Main Street Fire Hall, and we can take things like aerial photographs and traffic data and crunch those numbers to determine what the most suitable location would be,” said Williams.

The aerial photography used by the GIS department goes beyond that of simply mapping out roads; it is able to map features and assets such as street lights, buildings and water bodies.

The aircrafts used are equipped with LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), which is a remote sensing technology that measures distance and elevations. With this technology, GIS team members are able to determine high and low points around the city; valuable information when deciding locations for radio and cell phone towers and determining flood zones.

Through the use of these systems, a great deal of man hours are saved, according to GIS team member Megan Lockhart.

“With this equipment we’re able to look around the city to see what has been built,” said Lockhart.

“We can look at a photograph and see if someone has built a deck or something that they may not have a permit for and this saves us the man hours that it would take going door to door checking these things.”

The GIS department is able to monitor population growth and in areas of the city in order to assist with planning and infrastructure to ensure that all neighbourhoods of Airdrie are receiving the same levels of service with respect to items like emergency response and snow clearing.

GIS Day holds a great value from an educational standpoint, according to Williams.

“This is a great opportunity for us to educate our residents on the value of geography,” said Williams.

“There’s more to geography than maps and numbers and words, this is an important tool for city planning. The idea of GIS Day is to interact with the public and show them how this is benefitting them.”

Lockhart, a five-year GIS Technician, echoed Williams’ comments and was hopeful the open house format would bring awareness to students in Airdrie about career paths they may not have been cognizant of.

“Our department works with the entire City because we’re under the IT (Information Technology) department as opposed to the planning department, so we’re working with a lot of different people,” said Lockhart.

“I hope that this can bring in some students and give them a bit of an idea as to what we do and what you can do with a geography degree.”


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