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Got data? Gig Harbor’s GIS guy will map it

It’s not just about maps anymore, Mike Simmons says.

Simmons is the City of Gig Harbor’s newly hired geographic information systems coordinator, and he’s all about turning columns of dusty data into colorful visual tools that tell a story in a glance.

Since being hired in June, Simmons said he has been developing data tools for the public works department, planning and building staff, the police department, and the citizens of Gig Harbor.

“There has been so many tools that have come out to allow various data to be presented in multiple different ways,” Simmons said. “You can quickly present things and put them in better perspective than just a shape on a map.”

Simmons said this powerful tool will be able to help decision-makers in the city understand information in a much more structured way.

“For our directors, our council, our mayor, they will all have access to this data as decision-makers for the city,” Simmons said. “We will be able to have a little more structured way of seeing what type of projects need to happen and which ones need to be prioritized over others.”

As an example, the police department received a table of crimes in Pierce County that only included latitude and longitude coordinates. Simmons said he was able to plot those on a map so the department could see the placement of the crimes visually.

Hooked on maps

Simmons, 39, has a biology degree from Penn State University. Working in biology introduced him to field mapping, which got him hooked.

“Truth be told, though, I’ve loved maps since I was a kid,” he said. “Siot me down with Rand McNally, and I’d be exploring the world for hours.”

Before coming to Gig Harbor, Simmons worked with a consulting firm, focusing on cartography, GIS web-mapping applications and mobile GIS technology.

GIS falls under the Public Works Department for the city. Jeff Langhelm, the public works director, said hiring a GIS coordinator has been a huge benefit for city employees.

The GIS will also integrate with Public Works asset management software. This integration will lead to more complete mapping of the city’s infrastructure, and will allow crews to record maintenance and repair activities as they occur.

“Maps out there for the staff to use include parcel information, all the utility information,” Langhelm said. “I can go on there right now and see where all the water meters are in the city, who they are owned by, and everything else.”

Where do I live?

City residents have already seen a benefit from the GIS coordinator as well. There is currently a location map available informing residents on if they are within the city limits. This problems has arose on multiple occasions.

Just because an address says “Gig Harbor, WA” does not mean they are within city limits. The city has received many complaints from citizens who wanted assistance from Gig Harbor’s planning department but were not in the city limits, so could not receive assistance.

“The post office has zip codes and if you are in the 98335 or 98332 it is a Gig Harbor Zip code,” Langhelm said. “But the corporate limits of the city of Gig Harbor are much smaller than the zip code limits. It’s that way all across the country.”

Simmons said moving forward GIS can provide an extremely powerful hub of data. He said he hopes to create a centralized database throughout the city that all city employees can access.

This web mapping application is already in beta-testing by city staff.

“If we are investigating a parcel or doing research on an upcoming capital improvement project we can go see what infrastructure public works has there, what type of land use and zoning regulation is there, and have all of our ducks in a row,” Simmons said.

He said the goal is to eventually get a similar web mapping application out to the citizens.

“People will be able to gather data on the land they are living on,” Simmons said. “If they want to start improvements to their land it would be a good starting point.”

Langhelm is excited to have new maps for the city to easily use. Which information and maps will be created and released to the public is yet to be determined.

“We will give everything we feel we can give to the public that is doesn’t have a security risk associated to it,” Langhelm said.

Simmons said the goal is to get a public viewer by 2021. He said by next Fall he hopes a public web mapping application will be available to the citizens.

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