Fight the Bite, Track the Truck

20 Aug, 2007 By: Kenneth Wong

Managing West Nile virus with GIS; monitoring mobile assets with FleetScape

If you’re one of the 359,000 people living in Ada County, Idaho (2006 population estimate according to, you can feel the sting of the West Nile virus. According to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, "in 2006 Idaho led the nation in reports of human illness associated with West Nile virus, with 996 cases being reported to the state health department. In addition to people, West Nile virus was also detected in 338 horses, 127 birds, and numerous mosquitoes."

Like any concerned resident, you’re probably keeping a close eye on the ponds and rivers in your neighborhood. If you happen to find a suspicious-looking cluster of larvae, you can request a mosquito inspection by visiting the Ada County Mosquito Abatement District’s home page. You fill out an online form, enter your address, and then hit the Submit button. What you probably don’t know is, once you’ve done that, your request is geocoded in the County’s GIS database. For the efficiency of this setup, you can thank Jacob Mundt, GIS/mapping coordinator for Ada County Weed, Pest, and Mosquito Abatement District (WPMAD), and his colleagues.

The Bug Squad
As a graduate student of Idaho State University, Mundt studied the effects of noxious weeds. His graduate thesis was on remotely detecting and testing the harmful species. When he joined the WPMAD, he turned his combat skills against the insects that had been causing a buzz.

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If you live in Ada County, Idaho, you can monitor the containment of West Nile Virus from the local government’s Web site. Behind the scene, the county’s GIS infrastructure makes it possible to supply you with the most updated data, uploaded from the field crews of the county’s Weed, Pest , and Mosquito Abatement District.

“Ada County has a world-class GIS infrastructure,” Mundt noted. “So the Assessor’s Office and several other departments, for instance, use enterprise-level GIS for their daily work. But the WPMAD is a much younger department. When I was hired, there was limited usage of GIS in the department.”

In the corner of the WPMAD’s office sat a tall file cabinet, filled with folded paper maps. This archive was the cumulative outcome of thousands of maps produced yearly. Whenever the field crew needed to locate a site, they manually sorted through the pile. When they returned, they penned the discoveries into the maps to update the information. For better or worse, it was the Mosquito Abatement District’s database.

“For a number of years, the district had had a desire to introduce GIS into the workflow,” Mundt said. West Nile virus made the implementation a priority.

Now, the WPMAD crews carry GPS-equipped devices (ranging from smart phones to rugged tablet PCs), loaded with ESRI’s ArcPad software. From their handheld devices they access the sections of the country to visit, the roads where the sites are located, and the color-coded sites.

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The field crews of Weed, Pest, and Mosquito Abatement District go high tech with portable computing devices preloaded with ESRI’s ArcPad.

The WPMAD GIS interface is not an out-of-the-box product. “There’s a lot of customization involved,” Mundt said. The lion’s share of the initial customization was contracted to Electronic Data Solutions, a systems integrator and field data collection systems reseller in Jerome, Idaho, according to Mundt. “Afterwards, I did some scripting work to modify and extend the functionality of what they had delivered to meet our growing needs,” he added.

Automated Invoicing
The WPMAD application lets crew members input variables such as site ID, next survey appointment, and treatments applied; other variables are written automatically for quality control (inspector ID, survey date/time, and others). In addition, using field GIS creates much more precise maps and more accurate estimation of the square footages serviced than did the manual methods used previously.

Mundt is currently developing an automated billing system. Using the products applied, the quantity, and the frequency of the site visits as reported by the field crews, the WPMAD system can automatically transmit all the invoicing data to the county’s downtown enterprise databases.

In a presentation at the 2007 ESRI International User Conference about the WPMAD larvaciding program, Mundt observed, “A relatively large implementation cost is quickly offset by yearly cost savings.”

At the present, the field data from the PDAs is uploaded to the main database via flash drives. But Mundt believes that the use of WiFi for instantaneous update might be a possibility in the future.

Monitoring the Fleet
If what you’re tracking is not a swarm of mosquitoes but a fleet of trucks, you might turn to the ObjectFX FleetScape from ObjectFX. FleetScape is based on the company’s SpacialFX platform, described as “a JAVA-based platform for developing and deploying geospatial applications, including 2D and 3D map visualization, vehicle routing, address geocoding, custom symbology, and other mission-critical capabilities on a full range of client and server systems.”

“FleetScape is a visualization tool, originally designed for the transportation and logistics arena,” said Kevin Crothers, ObjectFX’s transportation business development executive. “You can have a large variety of assets moving around the country -- could be trucks, trailers, railcars, containers, or even people. It serves any company that needs to view where its assets are.”

A recent partnership between ObjectFX and Add On Systems, a developer and integrator of transportation management software for the IBM iSeries computers for the trucking industry, is expected to add some analytics that were previously not possible without extensive custom development.

In the announcement of the partnership, ObjectFX writes, “Using data from a trucking company’s existing business systems, in combination with vehicle location data from GPS and other geo-positioning systems, the FleetScape solution provides a dynamic and highly customizable map display and console showing the location and up-to-the-minute status of items of interest.”

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FleetScape from ObjectFX is designed for tracking mobile assets, such as trucks. The company’s recent partnership with Add On System is expected to deliver some analytics that were previously not possible without extensive custom development.

Crothers explained, “It gives not just the location of assets but useful information such as the allocation view. For instance, a trucking company can determine whether it has enough vehicles in a certain area in relation to the load commitment it has undertaken within that specific area. FleetScape can look at the load as an asset class, then compare that to where the trucks are. This lets you see two classes of items in relation to each other, to see whether you have allocated your resources properly.”

FleetScape is set to become available in the fourth quarter of 2007 as part of the suite of transportation monitoring products from Add On Systems.

About the Author: Kenneth Wong

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