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Diminishing Fire Threat Through Prevention in Vista, CA

Found seven miles inland from the Pacific Ocean, the City of Vista, California, is a thriving community in northern San Diego County with a population of approximately 101,000 and covering an area of 19 sq. miles. The Vista Fire Department services both the city of Vista and the Vista Fire Protection District, both areas totaling 36.5 sq. miles. The department responded to more than 13,000 calls for service last year.

The City of Vista’s dedication is offering exceptional service and improving Vista’s quality of life as well as enhancing the uniqueness of the Vista community. Vista’s Fire Prevention division handles the reduction of community risk of fire and preventable injuries and is the front line in maintaining community safety.

Weed Abatement Program

Each year, in preparation for the fire season, and prior to Vista Fire’s visual property inspections beginning June 1, the Vista Fire Department sends out “Notice to Clean Premises” letters to certain property owners. The notice is a reminder to maintain fire-safe properties. The program is very successful in keeping the community safe from vegetation fires.

This year, as a part of the Fire Weed Abatement Program, at least two fire inspectors per premises will inspect over 1,300 properties throughout the city and Fire Protection District. Thirty days after receiving notice, property inspections begin on-site. If uncleared properties remain, the abatement process continues with “Certified Letter” notices and potential abatement by city contractors, an overall program which can involve multiple on-site inspections.

Previously, an Excel spreadsheet of property assessor’s parcel numbers, addresses, and owner information were used to locate, track and document the program. Fire inspectors in the field could return to various areas of the city multiple times, as well as routinely crisscross each other’s path, due to the inability to geographically sort or store information for the program.

Critical Issues

The time it took to do the inspections was an issue. With no geographic references, the scattered sites throughout the district, city, and county presented difficulties when planning routes and schedules for the inspectors.

1. Administration of the program was a purely manual process.

2. Correct property boundaries proved difficult to determine in the field for wide open areas.

3. Adding new properties found in the field required manual research back in the office for APN, addresses and owner information.

Fire Inspector Mike McFadden approached the GIS department looking for a better solution. Cityworks PLL remained at the top of their list, since the inspectors already used Cityworks in the field as a part of their Fire Prevention Business Inspection and Permitting program. Having a GIS-centric system with a better location-based solution, access to current data in the field, along with logging the information into the City’s system was critical to the Weed Abatement Program.

One of the unforeseen benefits of implementing Cityworks and ArcGIS together was that it became easy to separate areas of the city to assign the inspections and pull up status reports at any time for the program.

Another major benefit came through access to the current APN, which allows program additions of properties found in the field. Previously requiring research when returning to the office, 100 properties could easily be added to the list using the “locate me” button in the Cityworks mobile app and gathering the APN. Using PLL fields to discern between these newly added inspections, which required a new 30-day grace period, and ones now needing follow-ups allowed the inspectors to cover both types of inspections simultaneously without overlap.

Implementation of the Cityworks mobile app not only handled the number one issue for field staff in the city—connectivity—but also added time-saving and reporting benefits to the overall process. In version 5 of the Cityworks mobile app, the ability to create new inspections directly in the field will be introduced, which will save even more time next year. As we, and Cityworks, move forward, we see a rollout of the mobile app for specific wastewater maintenance personnel, stormwater environmental engineers and possibly all of our PLL users. 

by Robert O’Donnell, GIS Coordinator, City of Vista, California