September 2015 Map of the Month: Communication Tower Mapathon

Pete CodellaBroadband

Utah Tower LocationsIn a recent meeting of the Utah Broadband Advisory Council, members indicated that a statewide map data layer of communication tower sites would present numerous uses. These included fire defense planning during wildfires, broadband coordination, and radio service planning. While there are a number of maps of communication sites in Utah from various sources, each one that we examined fell short in terms of completeness.

For this reason, the Automated Geographic Reference Center (AGRC) organized an experimental 1 hour ‘map-a-thon’ event this month to verify and create communication site data across the state. AGRC staff, together with help from GOED’s Broadband Outreach Center staff, and the GIS Manager at the Division of Emergency Management, explored simultaneous map editing technology, to see how far we could advance this communication tower map layer.

The effort leveraged existing datasets from the FCC, BLM, Utah Communications Authority, and several online tower maps as clues for where to look for towers. Utah’s high resolution aerial photography, licensed from Google, and AGRC’s base maps with roads and terrain features also informed the editing effort. The browser-based ArcGIS Online mapping application was used as the data viewing and editing platform.

Utah Tower Locations Tooele CoThe experiment proved that ArcGIS Online can handle simple editing and map viewing simultaneously and is a capable platform for ganging up to solve a map data need. With 11 editors, each taking on a county at a time, the team was able to find and verify 447 tower locations in 60 minutes. Additionally 357 potential sites (from the FCC or BLM data inputs) were found to have no visible evidence of a communications site.

There is more work to do, but we feel like we got half way to a viable product of tower location sites. Our goal is to have a more complete dataset by mid October. At that point the dataset will be published and we will welcome feedback from stakeholders. The hope is that the results can be shared to those with a role in the protection, coordination, and expansion of communications infrastructure.