GIS Docks at the Port of San Diego

17 Mar, 2010 By: Karen Richardson

Port Authority personnel streamline a massive facilities management mission by implementing GIS solutions that serve all departments.

The port of San Diego in California is a multifaceted facility spread over 6,000 acres around San Diego Bay. San Diego Port Authority is responsible for the port, the walkway, the park and concessionaires, several large public art installations, two marine terminals, and a cruise ship terminal.

Operating these diverse assets, which generated $133.7 million in revenue in 2007, requires sophisticated tools. The Port, which uses information technology (IT) enterprise systems to manage business information, decided to apply the same concept to space management. The Port envisioned a system used by every department — from general services for maintenance issues to real estate for managing leases — and accessible by all employees, from a summer intern to the CEO.

"Our vision of creating a common operating picture with a geographic perspective gives everyone the information they require along with the basic GIS functionality necessary to do their jobs in the best way they can," explained Malcolm Meikle, geographic information systems coordinator for the San Diego Unified Port District.

Integrating GIS into the Enterprise

The Port had been using ESRI GIS (geographic information system) technology since the 1990s in two separate departments: engineering and real estate. The departments were creating and using essentially the same data, but the information was not shared.

Three years ago, the Port upgraded from ArcGIS Desktop software to ArcGIS Server, a complete and integrated server-based GIS. The Port's IT department began managing the system to make facilities data accessible to all departments. The goal was to streamline workflows by identifying tasks, questions, and requests best addressed using a geographic approach.

"Using GIS cuts the time it takes to access critical information from seven or eight hours to mere minutes because the data is now located in one location, and it is up-to-date," said Meikle. "Just this change has sped up our workflow and is driving faster, more informed decision making."

Adopting new technology in the name of improving business processes can be daunting. The Port found that changing daily tasks as little as possible and incorporating tools that bring obvious benefits to users contributed to a successful transition.

These two rules were observed when incorporating GIS into the Port's CAD workflow as well. CAD continues to be used in the data production environment for creating drawing files for structures around the port, and designers now use the ArcGIS for AutoCAD extension to bring GIS data into the CAD environment. Port engineers gain access to GIS data created in-house and retrieved from ArcGIS Online — an ESRI-hosted repository where users can share GIS maps, data layers, and tools — while continuing to work with the software they know.

"AutoCAD users are drawn to this tool because it gives them a window into GIS information while still allowing them to work in their familiar AutoCAD environment," said Ari Isaak, GIS analyst, Unified Port of San Diego.

Implementing Standards through GIS

Creating an enterprise GIS has driven the implementation of data and file structure standards in the engineering department, so CAD data can be seamlessly displayed and analyzed through a wide variety of ArcGIS Server clients. A repository where digitized plat and record drawings are stored is accessed by an intermediate table describing all relevant information about those scanned drawings. The drawings are then stored in the geodatabase, instead of being scattered around multiple locations.

Moving data from CAD to the GIS geodatabase required CAD operators to follow naming conventions for drawings, layers, objects, and attribute blocks. Engineering staff members must also update a master CAD drawing instead of holding their own personal drawings on a local drive.

The Port adopted the United States National CAD Standard, which is used by organizations throughout the country for exchanging building design and construction data, as a guideline for its own CAD data standards. The Department of Homeland Security Geospatial Data Model serves as a guide for the GIS data. Employing data models ensures that every department is able to use and understand the data; a floor is a floor, whether you are in the real estate department or the utilities department. This, in turn, has made attribution much easier, since operators no longer need to guess at how to describe features in the drawings.

Easy Access to Imagery

GIS gives CAD users the ability to more easily view and use imagery. In the past, engineers would add TIFF images to AutoCAD one at a time, and the drawing time was slow. If a drawing comprised more than one image, each would have to be loaded separately. This took a long time and frustrated the operators. "CAD designers love ArcGIS for AutoCAD, if for no other reason than that they finally have access to high-resolution aerials quickly," said Isaak.

The Port uses images from two sources: 0.3-meter aerial images from ArcGIS Online and 4-inch aerial images created in April 2009 by the Port. The 4-inch-resolution images are used for quality control and as a source for creating new data. To use the images for these functions, engineers follow strict standards, including working in the same coordinate system as the GIS operators, state plane NAD83.

This simple change has provided several advantages to the engineering department. First, the drawings are available for viewing in correct geographic space, even if an image is not used as a backdrop. Second, users can find drawings by performing a spatial search instead of having to remember the name of the particular drawing needed. Finally, drawings can be used for more than one project, instead of being copied and pasted into work projects as had been done in the past.

These three improvements have cut down on errors — which are inherent in copying data — and reduced the amount of file space needed to store the drawings, since the source data managed in the GIS database can be used more than once. Now, everyone in the Port is using a single copy of the most accurate data.

Keeping Assets Afloat

Today, the Port is able not only to answer questions such as "How much square footage is available?" but to reach further into the data by gaining access to official record drawings and viewing, for example, the relationship between a developer's plans and the geographic interests of the Port. GIS is used throughout every department, including general services (for engineering data accumulation and maintenance) and finance (which uses GIS to track revenue coming into the Port from corporate leases and parking meters). Currently, more than 600 employees at the Port can use GIS data and web-based applications.

About the Author: Karen Richardson

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