How GIS has helped Minot increase productivity

Article reprinted from North Dakota Planning Association Newsletter

by Aleesha Erickson, Minot, North Dakota

After the catastrophic flood of 2011, Minot experienced rapid growth due to rebuilding efforts and the oil boom that was taking place in the Bakken Region. New plats were coming in left and right (Minot has grown by roughly 7,000 parcels in the last 5 years) and permits and inspections soared. City departments were understaffed and inundated with work. There had to be a more efficient way to handle questions and decrease the amount of time spent answering phone calls and helping citizens with general requests.

At the time of the flood, the City had just created a GIS department but had not yet been staffed. Once the position was filled, staff began to create a parcel base layer. The City of Minot uses AutoCad software, therefore all information was in CAD format. Using Map3D we were able to make ESRI shapefiles of the parcels and utility systems (water, sewer, storm sewer) from CAD drawings. Pictometry International, an aerial imagery company, had just flown the city in 2010 to collect aerial photography and LiDar data, so imagery and 1-foot contours were also in our dataset. The aerial imagery was then brought into CAD and the parcel shapefile was overlaid to help rectify the accuracy of the parcel layer.

Once a more robust dataset was developed, the city purchased FacilitiesMap software to host both an internal and public facing GIS website ( With this software we were able to develop a map for the public to retrieve the information they needed and also to create an internal site that allowed each department to make more individualized maps. The internal site also allows users to edit the data that is stored in an SQL Server database. Permissions for these maps and editing data are controlled by login credentials.

Putting GIS to Use

Parcel information is probably the most sought after information. It is relevant to developers, contractors, engineering firms, real estate agents, insurance companies, homeowners, and more. At first, this information was all being updated by one person. It was a very cumbersome process. The assessors would run a month-end report to show all ownership changes and then those changes would have to be manually updated in the parcel data. This process generally took about half a day to complete because we were recording around 500 ownership changes every month at that time. Then, once a month, the city council minutes were sifted through to find any zoning changes or other relevant data that needed to be updated. This was far too time consuming and the information was not that reliable. Eventually, using SQL Server and FME software, we were able to link to the Assessor’s Vanguard database to populate current parcel information such as: owner, address, square footage, zoning, etc. This information is now automatically updated every night and is much more reliable and current, because it is being pulled directly from the Assessor’s database nightly.

By making this information available to the public, it has cut down on the amount of phone calls city staff receive and it also has allowed the public to access this information at a time that’s convenient for them. Within the parcel data, the public can access hyperlinks to other relevant information, such as plat maps and the zoning ordinance.

Slowly, more datasets were developed and published for the public to access. There are now layers for future land use, parcels by zoning, renaissance zone, billboards, garbage collection days, city bus routes, parks and trails, annexations, and much more.

Most city departments are using the GIS map on a daily basis and are making requests for new information to be added. The Planning Department can easily identify a prospective property and instruct the GIS system to determine all parcels within the notification area around that parcel and generate mailing labels in a matter of minutes. A report can also be generated from this query that contains all the parcels along with their information. Staff are also able to present more useful information for official city meetings as well, because the GIS can provide excellent, accurate visualizations through mapping that anyone can understand. They have just recently started using the GIS to map all zoning violations as well.

The Public Works Department relies heavily on the GIS to aid in flood recovery efforts. By overlaying the proposed levees and floodwalls on the parcel layer along with the aerial imagery, the GIS can quickly determine all parcels affected by the new flood protection plan and create a report of these parcels along with pertinent information for each property. The GIS is used to track the properties that the City has purchased, and they are then mapped to a layer that shows the Street Department which additional lots they will need to mow in the summer.

Rosehill Cemetery has just completed the mapping of their burials and pre-need lots. The cemetery database is linked to the GIS and is updated monthly. Lots are color coded according to whether they have a burial or if they have been pre-purchased by someone. Either way, this information is available when you select the lot, making it possible for the public to search for someone and see roughly where their grave is located in the cemetery along with date of death and a few other pieces of information. This visual helps quickly determine which lots are available for purchase – especially if someone is looking to purchase a lot close to someone who is already buried in the cemetery.

Public Awareness

Just having the GIS isn’t enough if the public doesn’t know it’s there for them to utilize. The City of Minot has made some efforts to make the public aware of our GIS map. When the public comes in to the office, it is helpful to show them the GIS and how to use it to answer their questions. Telling them that they can access this map themselves may save them a future trip to our office if they can look on the map and access the information they are looking for.

A tutorial booklet was also produced and was handed out to contractors, developers, and others when they came into the office to pick up permits and such. The tutorial is available on the City’s GIS Department website along with a couple of newsletters that have been produced. The newsletters helped show people how they could use the GIS to answer questions they might have such as where to vote, how people could determine hotels close to where they had activities planned, or where their house is in relation to the new flood protection plan. The newsletters were then distributed by email to realtors, insurance agencies, utility companies, and others to help spread awareness. A half page article in the local newspaper was also instrumental in making the public aware of the information available to them.

Realtor’s offices have requested training demonstrations for their agents on how to use the GIS. Many are excited to know that they can get this information for themselves without having to make frequent trips to the city offices for information. In addition to realtors, several different Business and Information Technology classes at Minot State University have requested presentations for their classes.

The Next Step: Asset Management

Currently the City of Minot is looking to use the GIS to manage municipal assets and data related to these assets. Asset data is critical in order to determine where there may be failing infrastructure or where the best and most cost-efficient work should be done in order to reduce maintenance costs. This will incorporate work orders, more efficient work order deployment, and the ability to edit information by workers who are out in the field.

Aleesha Erickson is the GIS Coordinator for the City of Minot, ND. Prior to doing GIS work, Aleesha worked for them as a Public Works Technician. She enjoys being able to help others do their jobs more efficiently.