CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- As the city of Charleston's one-man GIS department, Adam Cottrell never knows who might call next, needing his expertise.
It could be the Planning Department, wanting to know the precise location of building and property lines for a zoning issue. It could be Traffic Engineering, seeking the locations of every traffic sign in the city for a federally mandated maintenance program. Or Kanawha County Metro 911, looking for an accurate list of every street address for its dispatch system.
"That's the great thing about the city," said Cottrell in his office, in a back corner on the fourth floor of City Hall. "There are so many departments that can use this information."
Since joining the city's Information Systems Department nearly two years ago, Cottrell has juggled a number of projects -- all under the GIS (geographical information systems) umbrella.
A fairly new specialty, GIS uses computer and mapping technology to analyze data in a graphical way.
"We're trying to look at data in different ways to make better decisions," he said. "Take criminal activities."
The Police Department has reports from each crime that show where and when the incidents took place, Cottrell said. By mapping the data, it's easy to spot patterns.
"It could be used to see if there's a shift over time," he said. "If we've got a hot spot here one month and it's shifting east or north, is it a trend?
"I graduated from Marshall University and straight out of there went to the Beckley Sanitary Board, set up their GIS system," said Cottrell, 34. "I came back to Charleston and worked in the private sector. I did sanitary work -- PSDs throughout the state -- but also worked on other projects. I worked for the Metro 911 center and then was hired by the city.
"My degree from Marshall was in environmental science. That's how I got introduced to GIS."
While working with Metro 911, Cottrell helped convert rural addresses across the county as part of the statewide readdressing project. But counties have no jurisdiction within municipalities, he said.
"So we're checking all the addresses in Charleston to help the emergency responders. We're doing a pilot area."
Cottrell sent a team of contractors -- field collectors -- to physically verify a list of addresses Metro 911 has been using to dispatch emergency responders with the city.
For the pilot area he chose the eastern part of the city -- from the densely packed East End to the hilltop farms east of Greenbrier Street. The area, covering about 10 percent of the 22,000 addresses in the county-supplied database, was chosen because it contains a cross-section of neighborhood types.
Charleston will avoid most of the growing pains suffered in unincorporated areas, where long stretches of rural routes had to be renumbered, Cottrell said.
"A lot of [the address data] is good. But we have a lot of residential houses that have been converted into apartments. We don't have the apartments listed. Sometimes you can't tell it's a multi-tenant structure; there's just a single address on the front of the house."
By cross-referencing the survey data with two other databases -- the county assessor's property tax records and the city's voluntary rental property registration system -- a more accurate picture of city real estate is emerging.
"This is one of the projects where the assessors have stepped up to the plate," Cottrell said. "They sent us the data they had."