County GIS website becomes interactive

Hamlet IT updates city site

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com James Armstrong, county planner and GIS director, talks about expanded GIS capabilities, including crowd sourcing, from the county website.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
James Armstrong, county planner and GIS director, talks about expanded GIS capabilities, including crowd sourcing, from the county website.

By Kevin Spradlin
PeeDeePost.com

ROCKINGHAM — If Beth Cadieu had had the luxury of someone else looking for her family cemetery and using GIS tools available through the Richmond County government website, it might not have taken her so long.

As Cadieu sought out the cemetery, she learned it was located between Ellerbe and Mangum, somewhere off Cartledge Creek Road and Big Mountain Creek. But old descriptions of the Gee Hines homestead failed to account how neglect had overtaken the area.

James Armstrong, county planner and GIS director, presented to the county commissioners during a public meeting Monday that aims to help people just like Cadieu on their next venture in rural or historic Richmond County by taking advantage of today’s technology to keep up with history.

And because the new software applications are mobile-friendly and interactive, it is bound to help the county as well.

One of the first steps in updating GIS capabilities, Armstrong told commissioners, was to make the GIS software accessible to cellphone users. Then a person with log-in credentials — easily obtained by reaching out to Armstrong in advance — “could actually go out and collect data,” he said.

The mobile phone user would simply key in some basic information, take a picture of the location and zap it to a server monitored by Armstrong and county planning staff.

“So now we have the opportunity to do some crowd sourcing where if there is an organization, such as the Richmond County Historical Society …”

It was at the June meeting of the Richmond County Historical Society that Cadieu gave her own presentation, one based on a years-long search for family genealogy.

“If someone’s in the field, take a point location,” Armstrong said. “Provide that information back to our server. Then someone — myself or someone else — on the GIS itself would then be able to see that dot, confirm it, make sure it is legitimate … and then submit it up to the data set itself.”

It could be a boon for those searching for though-to-be-lost family cemeteries, old home foundations, historical markers and more.

A mobile phone, however, is not required. The same web-mapping software can be access by a home computer, Armstrong said.

“It’s not just necessarily data being edited in the office of the GIS department, but also the public,” Armstrong said.

The applications can be downloaded on a smartphone or iPhone’s app store. There are a few different ESRI apps, and one Arc-GIS app “for just someone wanting to see the data.”

Armstrong cautioned that the technology won’t get the person to stand right on a specific burial plot but it will get the person within a few meters of the object.

“I know that would help a lot,” said Commissioner Thad Ussery. “Trying to walk some of these lines through the woods … with that partial view on the phone … then you could very easily come within a few feet.”

The technology also has a potential second purpose. Commissioner Don Bryant asked if a point of concern, such as an illegal dump site, could be pinpointed.

“Absolutely,” Armstrong said, noting the information could be passed along to code enforcement.

Additionally, the code enforcement officer can take a picture of an overgrown yard and then sync up the data and images on the phone with the county’s server.

“We can also set it up for much wider crowd sourcing,” Armstrong said of an effort that would be available to the general public, but “we probably want more of a sandbox approach or people would just start getting click-happy.”

More than a bookmark in Hamlet

Zach Garner, information technology director with the city of Hamlet, said updating the city’s website was one of his top priorities. He’s nearly finished.

Though still in a test phase, the updated site can be accessed here. The goal, Garner told city leaders Tuesday night during a public meeting, was to “give it a fresher look.

The look of the new city of Hamlet website homepage that will go live later this month.

The look of the new city of Hamlet website homepage that will go live later this month.

Soon to be gone, lost in cyberspace — or, rather, simply replaced — will be the more static “bookmark” of a website the city now offers.

Garner said the new site offers a cleaner look, a fixed background, a slider of photographic snapshots of the town’s key buildings — including the library and museums.

Another goal was to make the site more responsive to residents. Garner said the current site’s “contact us” is a simple link to City Clerk Tammy Kirkley’s email. The new version will offer a form the website visitor can fill out and have space to express a concern or discuss an issue. That form, once submitted, is concerted into an email that goes to Garner, who will distribute it to the appropriate place.

A key feature website visitors will notice is quite different is the events calendar. Garner embedded a Google calendar to “just make keeping up with the events a lot easier.”

At first glance, it seems like a lot of information to wade through. However, Garner showed how the web user can choose not to see activities from certain agencies, such as the library or senior center, for a cleaner, custom look that meet’s the visitor’s needs.

A screenshot of the current city of Hamlet website homepage.

A screenshot of the current city of Hamlet website homepage.

Also, in conjunction with the Richmond County GIS Office, city residents can now access a parcel viewer that delineates different zoning districts.

Garner also has added information for current and future residents, such as garbage collection schedule, water rates, City Council minutes, agendas and more.

Councilman suggested add a section on the city website to promote businesses within the city of Hamlet.

Overall, Councilman Johnathan Buie thought the improvements were more than acceptable.

“This should have been done years ago,” Buie said. “That looks really good.”

“There are still some kinks that  need to be gotten out of it,” Garner said. “I hope to have it all up and live by the end of the month.”

 

 

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