North Hempstead Town officials who rely on the memories of highway workers or old records to find light poles, street signs or fire hydrants will track thousands of those structures in a digital, surface-view map.
A $270,000 state grant enables the town to map out all of its structures — called “assets” — and store information about them through a software program known as geographical information systems. The technology has been used by political strategists studying voter behavior, marine biologists researching animal migration patterns and history buffs drawing Civil War battles.
The new program recreates the town, its 212 miles of roadway, and the structures that have been installed, repaired, and replaced under dozens of administrations. When a resident calls to report damage to a town “asset,” officials can view it on a “Situation Room”-like screen and may not need to send crews to assess what it had originally looked like. Officials expect fewer trips to town sites, saving time and money.
Town officials acknowledge that the effort is ambitious — requiring crews to photograph all of the properties — but critical, since 80 percent of its highway department is set to retire in the next decade.
“They have vast institutional knowledge,” Supervisor Judi Bosworth said in a recent interview. “As they leave, we need to know that we have a very firm knowledge of what these assets are and where they are.”
For example, Bosworth said the town could keep better track of signs that are there without “any rhyme or reason.”
“There could very well be some situation that existed 40 years ago” rendering some signs obsolete, she said. “It’s a way for us to have a good handle of what all of these assets are, if they need to be replaced and how we replace them.”
Images of the structures will be linked to information about the properties, including their age and any state laws regulating their use. Officials can quickly tell if properties conform to the codes, which can often change.
Other towns, municipalities and state agencies use the software to track inventory, such as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority with its railroad crossings, the City of Glen Cove to monitor septic systems and Huntington Town with street signs.
When Bosworth took office in 2014, officials in the town attorney’s office realized that dog-waste signs had threatened an incorrect fine of up to $250, in contrast to the actual $75 penalty. Town board members voted to change the fine, instead of the signs.
The town will also track structures in the Village of Port Washington North. Mayor Robert Weitzner said the program could help the village’s tree maintenance program, alerting officials of diseased trees, and provide a better grip on when storm drains need to be repaired.
“It just gives us an added sense of understanding our infrastructure,” Weitzner said.
Frank Prisciandaro, North Hempstead’s Commissioner of Information Technology and Telecommunications, said that in the past if a resident called to report a “a sign that fell down on the corner of Main and Second,” officials “don’t know necessarily what sign that is.”
Prisciandaro said, “We want to get all that information out of people’s heads and into a computer system, so it’s available to the next generation of government employees.”