Steve Palmer: GIS Storyteller

Each year, we’re amazed at the stunning number of users that want to tell their stories at UC. Last year’s conference featured more than 900 presentations and we expect to see just as many this year. One of those 900 will likely be Steve Palmer, who was the first person to submit an abstract for a presentation.  We recently spoke with Steve to learn more about his project and why he was so motivated to tell his story at UC.

Steve Palmer

Esri: Thanks for being the first person to submit an abstract for the 2014 Esri UC. Can you tell us a little bit about your job and how you use GIS?

Steve Palmer: I’m a Utility Engineer II in the Utilities Department at the City of Salina, Kansas. We manage and maintain the water and wastewater treatment plants and water distribution and sewage collection for the City.

One of my major tasks relates to managing water main replacement projects. Using complaints about customer water quality and the age of water mains, I create maps that show were we should focus future replacement projects. I also work with our department’s technician to develop construction plans for everything from replacing existing sanitary sewer pump stations to gravity pipe projects.

Our department also uses GIS on a daily basis to look-up asset locations or other information about the City’s water and sanitary sewer infrastructure. We have crews in the field that use GIS to locate and shut down water main valves when a water main breaks.

Water Main

Esri: That’s quite the range of activities. What will you be focusing on in your presentation?

Steve: My proposed presentation mostly centers on how we use ArcGIS for Desktop to develop the constructions plans for our water main replacement projects.

We have a pretty unique process in Salina where we use GIS to develop construction plans in-house. Many other municipalities contract with engineering consultants or have their own engineering technicians that develop construction plans. Historically, these professionals have used surveyors to gather data in the field and then technicians use a CAD program to draw the construction plans.

Since we already have all of our water infrastructure, street information, and parcel data in our GIS, we’re able to quickly get State approval for our water main replacement reconstruction plans without needing to submit a profile view of the plans. We don’t have to hire a field survey or outside engineers since we already have everything we need in the system. And, most importantly, we know the data is accurate and current.

By using GIS in-house, we estimate that we’ve been able to save about $435,000 on construction projects since 2010, about 10% of the overall cost of these projects.

Water Lines

Esri: Is that reason you decided to give a presentation?

Steve: It is. I’ve never submitted a presentation before, but I truly believe that we’ve developed a novel process that could really benefit other municipalities. My hope is that this presentation will empower some of my colleagues to try to solve some of their own problems in-house with their own GIS rather than looking to external contractors.

Esri: For you personally, what are your thoughts about giving a presentation at UC?

Steve: I think there’s going to be a lot of benefits in presenting. First and foremost, I’d love to get feedback from other professionals in my area of expertise about what we’re doing and find out how we might be able to improve our process. Secondly, it will be a great opportunity for me to network with some of my colleagues and just learn more about how utilities professionals in general use GIS. This will hopefully be my seventh UC and the conferences are always packed with information that can benefit everyone involved in GIS, from technicians like me to engineers, managers, and practically anyone else. Finally, presenting is also a great professional development opportunity for me. One of my ongoing goals is to make technical presentations to professional groups like the audience at UC. Being accepted as a presenter will probably also go a long way in helping me justify my trip out to the conference.

Esri: Thanks so much for sharing your story. To wrap this up, do you have any advice for someone who was on the fence about presenting at UC?

Steve: If you think you have an interesting or unique process that could help other GIS users, you should submit a presentation. It really helps the community.

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