Web Exclusive: District of Columbia Launches DC Atlas

July 30, 2002
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New GIS tool gives District employees access to better information.



Major downtown transportation routes.
The District of Columbia has created its first Web-based Intranet resource for mapping and location-oriented information, the DC Atlas. A user-friendly, yet sophisticated and powerful tool, the DC Atlas pools geographic, socioeconomic and demographic data from 68 District government agencies to provide users with standardized geographic information systems (GIS) data.

The DC Atlas’ mapping tools and applications will allow users to query and analyze more than 100 map layers to identify trends, forecast needs and pinpoint areas that require attention. The DC Atlas was an effort to integrate data already collected by the various agencies, but never combined in one place. It also provided motivation for new data to be collected, as now there would be somewhere to store it.

The DC Atlas owes its beginnings to the Mayor of D.C. who created the Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO). OCTO was set in motion in 1997 to guide technology policy in support of the District’s goals, which include improving governing services, citizens’ access to city services and transforming the city into a model for other cities in the information age.

The property information that is in the Atlas currently is a set of scanned images of the Office of Tax and Revenue block tax maps. These are the hand-drafted set that has been used for assessment purposes for many years. Each block in DC is a separate map showing tax lots, therefore, the scales vary, but are usually close to 1" = 50". OCTO is now going to undertake the vectorizing of this set of maps along with record lots in the District. Record lots differ from tax lots, as they are the original record plats of land, maintained by the Surveyor's Office in the Department of Regulatory and Consumer Affairs. All these plats show dimensions, and they will be COGO'ed and their dimensions captured as attributes. This is a long-term effort, but will be available on the Atlas when complete.

The DC Atlas is unique in that every District employee will have access to the data, rather than just actual GIS professionals or specialists. Adam Rubinson, director of special projects, believes this will be very empowering for district employees. “They will be able to track resources, evaluate and analyze data that in turn will allow them to make better decisions faster, supply better services and save taxpayers money,” he said. Access to the DC Atlas will empower employees to become critical GIS resources within their agencies and departments. Because DC Atlas pools information from every agency, users don’t need to consult numerous spreadsheets and databases from multiple agencies in order to obtain the intelligence necessary to make critical and timely decisions. Instead, they can access data seamlessly from all the servers in the District from their desktop.

In September the District will make an even more user-friendly Internet version of the DC Atlas available to the general public, the Citizen’s Atlas. According to Rubinson, this atlas will be the “most substantial offering of municipal GIS to the general public.” At this time, if a citizen has a service request, such as the removal of a downed tree limb, the citizen calls it in to the Mayor call center and then a work order is opened and dispatched to a city employee who completes the task and closes the work order. The accountability in this system resides completely within the District to make sure the work is done. With the citizen’s Atlas, however, the citizen will have the ability to click on the tree, see that their request was placed and the status of the work order. If the work order is closed and the branch is not removed, the District would then be accountable directly to the citizen. Rubinson believes this will result in greatly improved District services.

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