Ruth Emerick, GIS Analyst, City of Charlottesville
Your job title is GIS Analyst. What, in your own words, would you say you do?
Most of my time is spent working with spatial data. GIS is an acronym for Geographic Information Systems, which is software for working with and managing spatial information. Nearly everything has a spatial component: Census tracts, addresses, building footprints, school attendance zones, parcel boundaries, zoning overlays–you name it. I am responsible for a wide variety of GIS-related tasks: making maps for citizens and staff, building web maps like the Capital Project Viewer, managing our production data via automation, doing analysis on the connectivity of our pedestrian network, and performing basic data entry and quality control. I also help with projects that are more on the urban planning side of things, like the Comprehensive Plan and the Streets That Work Plan. Basically, if it involves spatial data, critical thinking, and computers, I’m there.
What is the best part of your job? The most difficult part?
I absolutely love what I do. I have so many opportunities to positively impact the way our local government operates and makes decisions for the betterment of both our citizens and staff. Being able to make sure everyone has the most up-to-date information to do their job well is very rewarding.
The most difficult part is balancing all of the requests I get; I have a to-do list that is about 2 years long.
How does your job most directly impact the average person?
I maintain automated tasks that update GIS information on the City website (data available for download and shown in the web viewer) and the Stormwater Utility Fee that comes with your Real Estate tax bill. Our basemap data is also used by 911 responders to quickly locate your house when there’s an emergency, which is why precision and quality control are vitally important to what I do.
What is the most interesting project or work experience that you’ve had while with the City?
I’ve worked on several interesting projects in my time with the City, but I don’t think anything beats this one yet for this spatial data nerd. When I was originally hired as an intern, my first (and seemingly unending) project was to get a handle on our address data. Yes, like the address of your house or favorite place to shop. We had several databases with addresses (real estate parcels, utility bills, business licenses, etc.), but all this data was collected for a very specific purpose and even the combination of all that information didn’t give us a clear picture of what was out there. Not only did we not have a master database with all the addresses assigned in the City over the last 250 years, but for it to be really useful, we wanted to know which buildings those addresses belong in. I spent countless hours doing analysis to figure out where addresses belonged, where we were missing data (such as duplexes, shopping centers, and apartment buildings), and—for any data I didn’t have or couldn’t verify as complete—I walked all over the city collecting it. It’s still a work in progress 4 years later, but it’s much better than where we were and allows us to check for errors before we get calls from the Emergency Communications Center saying they couldn’t find so-and-so’s house when they got a 911 call over the weekend because 1426 was tucked in the middle of the 1300 block of your favorite street.
What is a little-known fact about you?
Can we make this: facts (plural)? I can’t choose just one. My husband Tim and I are expecting our first child in April 2015. I have mathematics and GIS degrees, but would have majored in anthropology if it had been offered at my alma mater, Cal Poly. Also, I LOVE Star Trek.