County receives GIS equipment grant

By Staff
Jonathan Willis
Officials in Washington D.C. are keeping a watchful eye on Franklin County and that's not a bad thing.
A consortium of 14 county agencies is working together to have a geographic information system in place in the near future and it could be a model for others around the country.
The Franklin County engineering department, revenue office, the Franklin County Economic Development Authority, E-911, Franklin County Water Service Authority, the cities of Russellville, Red Bay, Phil Campbell, Vina and Hodges, the Red Bay Water and Gas Board, Phil Campbell Water and Sewer and the Northwest Alabama Gas District make up the group.
The project, once completed, would give the 14 agencies an aerial image of the county that will enable them to share information.
Each agency will have the hardware and software necessary to manage their data not only in terms of database operations but also with the unique visualization and geographic analysis benefits that GIS offers.
GIS is especially helpful when dealing with any type of infrastructure such as roads, gas lines, waterlines, fire hydrants and power lines. Having photos of pre and post disaster areas will provide the emergency management agency with quick and accurate assessments of damage.
"It will allow emergency personnel to quickly mobilize in disaster events such as hurricanes and tornadoes," said Franklin County engineer David Palmer, who has worked to form the consortium of agencies.
"The ability to fly the county immediately after a disaster and compare the photographs to pre-disaster imagery is invaluable in assessing the damage and returning order to our community as quickly as possible. It could certainly mean the difference between life and death."
Each individual agency will be able to locate and document their respective assets on the map.
The process of completely installing the GIS program will take about three years and will be done in three phases. Palmer said the first phase is about 85 percent complete. That phase includes acquisition of new aerial imagery and purchasing new hardware and software to view the imagery.
All of the aerial imagery was paid through grant money, including $5,000 that State Sen. Roger Bedford (D-Russellville) presented to the group this week.
"He realizes the importance of GIS," Palmer said.
The second phase will include the installation of a server that will connect all of the member agencies so data is easily shared and accessible.
"Right now, we must drive from site to site downloading the data to CDs every few months, which is not a very efficient method of sharing data," Palmer said.
The final phase will be the completion of a comprehensive Web site that allows the community to look at all the data available.
"Residents will be able to look at all the public records available and prospective industries can use it to learn more about the county," Palmer said.
The total project will cost close to $1 million, but the majority of that will come from state and federal funding.
"The most any consortium member will pay in phase one is approximately $25,000," Palmer said. "State and federal agencies are very interested in our project because of the cooperative community involvement in the development of such important technology."

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