The first few hours of any ice storm can be some of the most nerve wracking. Rain falling, ice building. Any optimism quickly disappears as tree branches turn into bony, cold fingers, seemingly destined to touch the ground. Then the unmistakable sound: splitting trees and falling branches. This was a call to action for Public Works Parks and Open Space Technical Specialist Eric Cariaga.
With the cacophony of crumbling and crashing trees on the night of December 14, 2016, Cariaga went to work with the computer software system ArcGIS.
“It was apparent early on that this was a dynamic storm. I could tell by the sheer number of failing trees that this was going to be a major tree event,” said Cariaga. “I wanted to maximize our efficiencies, so I wrote a code that allowed our ArcGIS system to take real-time data that was called in from the public and entered into MMS – Public Works Maintenance’s program used to log and track service requests.”
ArcGIS is an online geographic information system (GIS) which allows people to create and share maps, scenes, analytics, and data. The Parks and Open Space Division uses ArcGIS to keep an inventory of City trees.
With chaos unfolding on the streets, Cariaga built several layers in ArcGIS to help crews in the field prioritize their work. As soon as they cleared a scene, they could use their iPads to find the nearest hazard that had yet to be mitigated.
“This was incredibly valuable for our crews. They could not only see the location of downed trees and limbs, they had a good idea of the damage before they arrived on scene,” said Cariaga. “In most instances they knew if they were qualified to respond to a particular call and had the correct tools.”
The hours following the storm turned into days. Staff cleared streets, completed work orders, and investigated the more than 1,200 calls from the public. The city was finally getting back to normal. The trees, however, were still a peril. Branches hung dangerously over streets and in parks. The enormous task of recording and mitigating the damage required a multi-tiered approach, aided and improved by the ArcGIS technology.
Highly skilled tree scouts worked methodically throughout the city. They first canvassed priority routes before eventually branching out to every city street, park, and trail. They entered tree-related hazards into the ArcGIS layers built by Cariaga. Details included severity of the hazardous condition, coordinates, and pictures. All of this data not only helped the City record the information, it will also save time when working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for potential reimbursement of cleanup and storm-related costs.
“Not only are we able to track all of this information for our records, but we now have detailed information we can share with FEMA representatives,” Cariaga said. “We also have the capability of tracking all of the information in real time. So as crews and contractors complete work orders, it’s reflected for all users and they can move on to the next job.”
Part of the real time updates come in the form of an electronic dashboard. As field crews update work orders using iPads, the data automatically populates into the ArcGIS program. This allows other field and office staff to see which resources might be needed on a job or that a work order has been completed. This replaces the old paper system where field staff picked up work orders at the beginning of the week. Any changes to the schedule would require additional communications and could be easily overlooked.
“This storm response was by far the best I’ve ever seen in my time at the City of Eugene,” Cariaga said. “We were able to respond to calls quicker and with increased accuracy and efficiency.”
While technology continues to be implemented in more areas of service, Cariaga doesn’t want to lose sight of the most important portion of the response: the men and women who work out in the field. Not only have they spent weeks identifying and clearing tree hazards, but they’ve cleared downed trees and branches from the entire right-of-way system.
“As soon as we realized the magnitude of this storm, we used different colored stars to signify work groups. They truly are the stars of this recovery process. Without our field staff willing to go out in the rain, snow, or freezing temperatures, none of this would be possible,” Cariaga said.