Geo-tagging Technology on a Shoestring Budget

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Previously, we discussed the many advantages that geo-tagged images provide for revaluation, record-keeping, and appeals processing by allowing users to add geographic coordinates to their photos.

Today, we’ll discuss how you can take advantage of this time-saving technology, even on a tight budget.

Believe it or not, there are minimal costs involved with leveraging geo-tagging technology. At this year’s NCAAO Fall Conference, both Guilford County and Rockingham County offered presentations on how their departments have affordably implemented geo-tagging technology.

Guilford County

By relying on only the resources their county already had – a basic point & shoot digital camera, a Panasonic Toughbook, handheld GPS, and an external GPS antenna – Guilford County implemented geo-tagging with no additional expense.

Tax officials for Guilford County got a chance to put the new technology to the test when they took on a reappraisal project in preparation for the 2010 implementation of their new property tax system, NCPTS.

According to Eric Funderburk, GIS Analyst for Guilford County, the project started with a two-man team of appraisers driving themselves to each site. One person took the pictures while the other provided navigation, collected photo points, and entered data. At first, the team would capture the photos and then return to the office to manually rename them with their corresponding parcel ID and match the image taken with the correct parcel in ArcGIS. This proved to be a time consuming endeavor.

To speed up and simplify the process, Eric Funderburk and the GIS team worked to create the Process Work Flow – a six-step method that helped automate the actions of renaming and mapping photos. The Process Work Flow includes collecting the photos, creating a photo point in ArcPad, retrieving the photos, synchronizing field data from the mobile PC, geo-tagging photos, and renaming photos by parcel ID.

Although it might sound like a lot, many of the steps in the Process Work Flow are done automatically without the tax office having to manually enter a thing!

With the help of ESRI Support, the Guilford County team was able to create different Python scripts that would both sequentially automate the digital images for easy map assignment in the field and read the camera’s memory card inserted to a desktop computer back at the office.

The memory card contained valuable information that allowed the created script to match image files with the data that was assigned in the field to automatically rename the photos and match them with their corresponding Parcel ID.

These automated steps were a tremendous time-saver and allowed the tax office to process more photos than they had ever thought possible.

Before the GIS Department got involved in the project, tax appraisers would process about 50-75 photos per day. Afterwards, their productivity increased to 1,500-2,000 photos per day, enabling the tax office to process and geo-tag 75,000 images at the end of the reappraisal project (Funderburk)!

Rockingham County

Rockingham County has spent just a few hundred dollars to get geo-tagging up and running in their county, purchasing only a Nikon GPS-enabled digital camera and GPS- Photo Link software to enable their images to be displayed in ArcGIS.

According to Mark McClintock, Real Property Supervisor for Rockingham County, their initial project goals were to capture images of as many main and miscellaneous improvements as possible using up-to-date technology.

Although Rockingham County is still in the process of implementing their new technology, they have reported positive results so far. They are continuing to take pictures in preparation of assembling a geodatabase that will eventually link to Pictometry and their GIS department is exploring the use of an ArcPhoto application (McClintock).

While both Guilford County and Rockingham County used a digital camera to capture property images, a dedicated digital camera isn’t necessary.  Instead you can use a handy device that most of us have by our side on a daily basis – a smart phone. Most smart phones are now equipped with a GPS chip that instantly geo-tags any photo taken. You may be unaware of it, but when you snap an image on a smart phone, the exact coordinates are embedded in your photo and can easily be retrieved.

As you can see, there are many different systems and processes that can help you take advantage of geo-tagging technology without spending a lot of money. For more information, check out Tagging Real Property Photos to Your GIS.

*Special thank you to Mark McClintock, Real Property Supervisor for Rockingham County and Eric Funderburk, GIS Analyst of Guilford County for agreeing to be sources for this article.

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