Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Lois E Johnson
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

County's GIS system saves time and money


December 27, 2018

Damages in the City of Moose Lake and Carlton County from the June 2012 flood took months of work to catalogue, it was reported at the Carlton County TRIAD meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 5, at the Moose Lake Police Department meeting room.

“In 2012, we hired a full-time person to find the damages and record them,” explained Tim Peterson, the Moose Lake City Administrator. “It took months and months and months. In 2018, it took hours. The Street Department supervisor took photos of the damaged areas and we were able to give all of the information to FEMA within a half hour. The GIS saves time and money and effort. Those are incredible savings.”

The GIS, Geographic Information System, is a tool that few counties have.

Steve Vankekerix, the Carlton County Emergency Management Director, explained that Carlton County partnered with St. Louis County and received a grant from the state to fund purchasing the system.

“All of the emergency managers in northeast Minnesota want to use this system,” he said. “We will meet with them tomorrow. And we are going to do a presentation about this at the governor’s conference in February.”

Vankekerix explained flooding in 2018 caused damage from Moose Lake and to the east in southern Carlton County.

“Siona (Roberts, GIS technician for Carlton County) put together a map of the damages after the flood when the governor came,” he said. “We needed it to file for funding for disaster aid. A phone or iPad was used to take photos and record the information, and then Siona and Jared (Hovi, the GIS Coordinator) plugged that information into a map. We could see the 10 worst sites of damage.”

Two of the sites that had the most damage were a huge washout on Highway 23 and the railroad grade near Holyoke. The train tracks were left hanging in the air.

It was explained that photos taken with a phone or an iPad have geographical information attached to them, and that information is transferred to the map when downloaded.

“A box culvert under Highway 23 usually has a small stream but it washed out when a tremendous amount of water came through there during the flood,” said Vankekerix. “The washout was 12 feet deep in the deepest place. That culvert is going to be replaced with a bridge. The final repairs are estimated at $1.7 million. There were also damages on County Roads 11 and 147, and the forester found damages on the Soo Line Trail.”

A map of the damages that was created by the GIS staff was shown, with each damaged spot numbered.

Sheriff Kelly Lake explained that deputies are often the first to see the damages.

“The squad cars all have computers with GIS,” she said. “They are out there right away before the county workers. They report were the washouts are. That is huge for emergency responders. They know immediately if they have to go around damage when they are responding to an emergency.”

Roberts added that damaged areas can be removed from the map as soon as the damage has been repaired.

“We didn’t have this in 2012,” said Lake. “This is so much quicker. This is much more accurate.”

Another advantage is that the system lists information about each site of damage in tabular form, as is required by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) immediately.

“This already has all of that information attached,” said Roberts. “It gives the description of the damage, the location, the scope and cost estimates to repair the damage and other required information. The information can be printed off on paper. It will have all of the data.”

Moose Lake Police Chief Bryce Bogenholm explained that the GIS can be used for searches.

“With satellite imagery we can see buildings not seen from the road,” he said. “We can pull up a photo and see where someone is growing marijuana.”

Roberts said thermal imaging can also be used when searching for a person.

“The state patrol can use thermal imaging in an air search,” she explained. “With the longitude and latitude information, they can tell where a person is. All of the addresses in the county have GIS points on them. But there are limitations. Thermal imaging highlights the difference between the ground temperature and body temperature. Tree cover and hot summer days could mean that thermal imaging may not pick up someone in the woods.”

Vankekerix spoke about a search in Lake County where a man lost in the woods wasn’t found for five days.

“He crawled into a log at night, and the log trapped the heat,” said Vankekerix.

Roberts presented information about the capabilities of the system.

Information about culverts, bridges, water and sewer lines and other utilities can be listed on layers in the system. The location of properties is also listed on the map. That is public information, said Lake.

Roberts showed on a map projected on a screen how anyone can get information about a property and where it is located by going to the county’s website and downloading GIS mapping for free.

Peterson said the system is used by the city. Topographical information tells if a sewer lift station is pumping uphill or downhill. And the information can be used in planning to measure distances.

“If we need to send notices to a neighborhood, we can export the information and literally send out the information within seconds,” he said. “It’s amazing.”

A TRIAD member pointed out that, because the location is attached to photos taken with a phone, the privacy settings should be set when photos are taken of children to prevent their location from being known.

The next meeting of the Carlton County TRIAD was set for Wednesday, Feb. 6, at a location to be announced.


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