Water Agency Improves Field Data Collection with Digital Pen, Paper

The Surface Water Management Division of Public Works in Snohomish County, WA, takes a comprehensive approach to managing surface water. In addition to maintaining public infrastructure investments, the agency also works to minimize flooding while protecting and restoring important natural water resources.

Jun 1st, 2011
Pennwell web 375 249

The Surface Water Management Division of Public Works in Snohomish County, WA, takes a comprehensive approach to managing surface water. In addition to maintaining public infrastructure investments, the agency also works to minimize flooding while protecting and restoring important natural water resources. Half of the agency’s 80 employees are in the field managing vast amounts of constantly changing data. To gather information quickly and keep their central GIS data up to date, the agency launched a pilot program using digital pen and paper software.

The Surface Water Management team has a broad mandate and serves a range of constituents. Drainage systems need to minimize flooding. Stormwater discharges must be as clean as possible. Rivers, creeks, wetlands, and estuaries require protection and restoration. Large public investments in pipes, ponds, and shorelines also require ongoing maintenance. The agency dedicates half of its workforce to constantly measure and analyze the current state of both constructed and natural drainage systems. Managing volumes of data over long periods of time is a necessary part of their work.

The agency also works closely with the citizens of Snohomish County, focusing on longer-term community building initiatives. Those efforts include personal technical assistance for property owners with drainage challenges or water quality issues. The agency supports stream side landowners and encourages actions that promote aquatic health, ranging from replanting native vegetation to building fences to keep livestock out of streams. The team is very hands-on, building partnerships with landowners, businesses, and groups in the community to help regain and preserve the vitality of Snohomish County’s network of natural streams.

Tracking and coordinating such an extensive set of mandates, data, and field personnel is a major challenge. Because information changes frequently, the team needs access to the most current data to make the best decisions for the community.

The team faces other challenges as well, such as working in a wide array of wet field environments and variable conditions. Collecting data on storm drainage patterns often involves engineers floating down rivers, wading through streams, or trudging into wet and muddy wetlands. Laptops and rugged PCs can be heavy, difficult to use with large format maps, and cost-prohibitive.

The Surface Water Management team faces a number of field challenges such as wet, muddy environments and variable conditions.

Solution

To improve information flow from the field, the Surface Water Management Division tested two new field data collection and management techniques: Capturx for ArcGIS and Capturx for Microsoft OneNote.

With these tools, field maps and layouts are created within ArcGIS, the same way that the team prepares and prints maps today. The maps are printed on normal paper and digitally enabled with a unique background pattern that the digital pen senses as it writes. Each stroke of the pen on the paper map creates a new feature or a red-line annotation that is geospatially referenced and added to the geodatabase. Once the pen is docked into its USB port on a PC or laptop, the field data automatically appears in ArcGIS. There is no new technology to learn or data to re-enter.

The team also uses Capturx for Microsoft OneNote, which utilizes a Rite in the Rain all-weather journal. Notes that would normally be written on paper and remain inaccessible in notebooks or on desks now become digitized and easily accessible. The notes and drawings are sent directly into Microsoft OneNote, leaving a paper copy in the notebook. The all-weather journal is well-suited for the surface water management task.

Because the tools integrate seamlessly with ArcGIS and OneNote, data uploads and management are simple and straightforward. Once the data is collected, it can be immediately uploaded and shared among team members. This eliminates the need for support staff to decipher and transcribe field notes, increasing the data accuracy and integration speed. With the resulting improved workflow, the agency expects lower personnel bandwidth issues for data entry. Further, the agency can review important information with key personnel more quickly, enabling better data analysis to serve customers more efficiently.

The pen interface enables field teams to work with greater flexibility in a variety of weather conditions. Its design is intuitive so team members can begin using it right away with little to no training.

The Surface Water Management Division expects meaningful cost savings from using the Capturx platform and digital pens, particularly in the areas of time savings, more efficient decision-making, and cost of ownership.

Looking Ahead

Going forward, the Surface Water Management Division foresees expanding the scenarios for using the digital pen and paper system. Some applications include heavy image satellite classification; vegetation monitoring and identification; locating existing utilities; and note-taking at public meetings.

WW

About the Company: Adapx helps a broad range of businesses and agencies speed data collection and streamline operations with Capturx™ digital pen and paper software.

More WaterWorld Current Issue Articles
More WaterWorld Archives Issue Articles

More in Water Utility Management