by Sheila Gardner

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August 10, 2012
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You are here: GIS puts the map on Douglas County

You can't get very far into Douglas County without coming across geographic information systems, whether it's maintaining the land base for the assessor's office, tracking the progression of a wildland fire, or providing maps to searchers looking for a lost hiker.

It's just the tip of what the division does under the supervision of Eric Schmidt and his four colleagues.

Schmidt calls himself a "geo-geek," somebody who is enthusiastic about geography and the technology that creates maps and analysis using diverse sets of data.

While Schmidt is comfortable with terminology like "spatial data," "pictometry" and "thematic mapping," he is attuned to members of the public who might not be.

Part of the division's mission is "bringing GIS to non-GIS users," Schmidt said in a recent interview.

"More people are starting to see the spatial data world as not only helpful, but lucrative. Everybody's jumped on it, is open to it or interested in it," he said. "It also pushes us, which is very good. We need to be more than a map shop."

Schmidt, and his team - Chad Foster, Leah Montoya, Andrew Thorup and John Max - serve not only Douglas County, but are under contract with Carson City, Storey and Lyon counties.

"Most of what we do is digital and ethereal," Schmidt said. "The strength is based on teamwork and technology which is pretty heavy duty. We have a good mix of specialized education and training."

When Douglas County updated its website, Schmidt made sure that GIS services were only clicks away from users. Every menu selection includes an option for maps and GIS.

"Let's give people access to get their questions answered quickly," Schmidt said.

Plans call for classes and workshops to bring the public up to speed with what's available from GIS and how to use it.

"We're training internal departments on use of applications," he said. "By doing that, we're also training ourselves how to train. We're going to use our staff as guinea pigs. Eventually we'll be training the public. We want people to use this. If people don't use this, it's pointless."

Schmidt joined the division on April 1, 2010. Within a year, he was working on plans for Douglas GIS to contract with Storey and Lyon counties and Carson City to provide geographic information systems.

"GIS lends itself to a regional approach," Schmidt said.

Schmidt has assigned a team member to each jurisdiction.

"If it's a matter of public safety or an emergency disaster, we will support them to whatever extent they need," he said.

That requires cross-training.

"No one person is solely in charge of anything," he said. "I am a big believer in overlapping and cross-training. If one person learns something, they have to teach it to at least two people."

Schmidt said he won't tolerate "siloing," which he described as someone believing a certain area is theirs exclusively.

"It's a philosophy of, 'this is what I do - me, me, me'. I am a huge advocate of cooperation and collaboration," Schmidt said.

Schmidt solicited comments from out-of-county clients for an evaluation at the July meeting of Douglas County commissioners.

The division earned high praise.

"I feel you have always taken prompt care of the concerns I bring to you, and have always delivered with professionalism and attentiveness," said Holly Villines, Lyon County senior draftsperson. "I am so pleased that our data sharing system has worked so well. It has allowed me to continue with the daily mapping responsibilities unabated, while you can also work with the information to compile your GIS requests."

Lyon County Manager Jeff Page said there were concerns a year ago by commissioners and department heads about control and access.

"This quad-county venture in GIS should be considered a best practices approach to shared services," Page wrote to the Douglas board. "Today we have a better product and accountability of our departments and the time and products they receive from Douglas County GIS."

Similar sentiments were expressed by officials from Storey County and Carson City.

Schmidt said he is grateful to former Douglas County Assessor Barbara Byington and his GIS predecessor Dawn Patterson for creating the department years ago.

"If it wasn't for them, we would not be where we are today," he said. "I am keenly aware of that."

Schmidt has been engaged in professional mapping services since he graduated from college in 1991.

"I started out as a pen and ink cartographer, drawing maps," Schmidt said.

Fast-forward 21 years.

"If your idea of mapping is using a fold-out road map or an open atlas, it's like taking a hunter-gatherer into Raley's," he said of the technology.

Schmidt said he has no immediate plans to expand the division.

"We'll keep doing what we're doing. We want to continue to deepen the data and people's access. We've been through a lot of change in the last few years," Schmidt said.


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The Record Courier Updated Aug 13, 2012 10:36AM Published Aug 10, 2012 08:22PM Copyright 2012 The Record Courier. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.