Anna Phillips, Hinesville’s geographic information systems coordinator, is a self-taught GIS expert and the go-to person for creating and storing data that maps the location of fire hydrants, stormsewers, street lights, manhole covers and numerous other items maintained by the city and county.
Phillips, who has worked for the city for more than 10 years, recently shared her expertise with GIS technicians and industry leaders at the Economic and Social Research Institute’s Southeast User Conference in Jacksonville. She was one of many speakers during the three-day conference, which covered the spectrum of the geospatial industry.
Prior to attending the conference, Phillips conducted a dry-run of her presentation at city hall with representatives from five departments as her audience.
“(That) was my last dress rehearsal,” said Phillips, who is certified as a GIS professional. “We had about 16 people there for the rehearsal.”
Phillips said her presentation, called “Big Vision, Little Budget,” summarizes her experience in creating and using a GIS database to improve the efficiency of several departments.
When she began working for the city — Hinesville started its GIS office in 1996 — she was operating on a limited budget and only basic software. Her section, which comes under the city’s inspections department, now includes two full-time employees and one intern.
Phillips said the city’s budgets have allowed her section to stay current with technology and hardware, but purchasing data has been difficult. In 2006, the city’s first major data purchase provided updated aerial mapping of the community. The following year, they were able to purchase the “planimetrics” for the fire department that consisted of buildings, pavement edges and power poles, she said.
That year, the city also bought its first global positioning system. She said these GPS units, which look like smartphones, use satellites to tell the user where he or she is after locating a hydrant, manhole cover, etc. That data is recorded for future use. She said a unique identifier now lists the location of every manhole cover in the city.
“The first thing we did was locate all the fire hydrants with our GPS units,” she said, noting the old GPS units were accurate within 15 feet, while current units are accurate up to a foot. “After the fire hydrants, we tackled the sewer system, locating every manhole cover, sizing most pipes and noting the flow direction. This was done while the user was completing inflow and infiltration reports, saving the city time and money.”
She said GPS also has been used with mosquito control and mapping walking trails, as well as roads and sidewalk maintenance. The GIS data compiled by her office has been used to assist the finance, fire, water, inspections, public works and law-enforcement departments, Phillips said. She said GIS data has also benefited the Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission and Liberty County Development Authority.
“(The conference presentation) went really well,” Phillips said. “I felt pretty good about it. There were about 500 people at the conference, and I probably had about 75 people at my presentation.”
Phillips said conference attendees could choose between one of four seminars to attend each day. She said several GIS representatives, business and community leaders attending her presentation came to her after her presentation, thanking her for the information.
She said a lady from a town of about 15,000 told her she was creating a GIS data base for her city from scratch, just as Phillips did for Hinesville. Hearing that Phillips was able to do it made her task less daunting, Phillips said.