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‘COVID-19 has accelerated the need for mapping of our indoors’

COVID-19 has created the awareness around and accelerated the need for mapping of our indoors. While importance of location information has been paramount and well recognized since the onset of the pandemic, one thing that didn’t get highlighted as it should have been is the indoor location aspect – where exactly is an infected patient inside a building; how many other people are there in that room; how does hospitals retrofit air conditioners, etc. “More so as we now reopen our offices, we need to understand  where do we have a problem; how can we distance the employees’; where there are intersections of staff or what is the capacity when we are looking to bring visitors. These are the problems that BIM just does not solve,” points out George Mastakas, Vice President, Enterprise Solutions, Cityworks. “COVID has fast forwarded the need for mapping of our indoors by at least two to three years if you look at the human cost of coming back to work.”

Mastakas agrees that the whole world – the governments as well as the technology and infrastructure industry — has been found lacking when it comes to mapping the third dimension. It’s kind of ironicthat we have had these natural disasters for ages now, and everytime we are stuck in the same old routine — the disasters strike, infrastructure demolished, lives lost, and we are like “okay lets go and clean it up.” And we do the same thing over and over.” This is largely because so far disasters mostly take place in one location – a city or at best a region, and whatever happens is somewhat in isolation. “But the ‘pan’ in the word pandemic means it’s happening everywhere, and it’s inescapable. COVID has had the unintended consequence of getting us to think differently — more creatively – on how to operate.”

ALSO READ: GEOBIM for Digital Cities – Integration of technology for public services

There is an incredible opportunity here for organizations to jump into this space, especially in the US, with the CARES Act coming in force late March. The  $2-trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, is aimed at providing relief to individuals, businesses, and government organizations. “The Act provides funds for businesses and local governments to acquire technology to basically do these sorts of things — retrofitting, cleaning and tracking all of assets — so that they could create a business operation that is more healthy and conducive to interacting with the public and even their own staff,” he adds.

Going beyond BIM

Construction and infrastructure projects have been using BIM for some time now. But while it is great for engineers and construction managers, but not everyone has accesS to the BIM models. This is where GIS comes in. “I think that there is probably an abundance of BIM and CAD out there. I wouldn’t want to conflict and say no there is not enough of 3D. There definitely is. But I don’t know if there is enough of 3D in the world that we live — the operations world. That is where we see a lot of proliferation of 3D,” points out Mastakas, while adding that the user community today wants more and more 3D models for better inspection and monitoring.

For instance, again looking at COVID, the hospitals need to quickly figure out to how to retrofit air conditioners to isolate infected patients.“This is what ESRI’s Indoors allows us to do. BIM can certainly give us a view of that but if you are looking for something spatially for analysis purpose, only GIS would show you where those intersections are how to solve that problem. You are not going to necessarily get that out of BIM,” he adds.

3D mapping is just one aspect. A lot of municipalities used the funds to buy technologies like Teams, Zoom and more laptops, because they were so ill equipped to work out of offices. Mastakas says this is where they approached Cityworks to help them continue their operations.

ALSO READ: Will COVID-19 change how our cities are designed in the future?

COVID-19 solutions

Cityworks, which became a Trimble subsidiary post its acquisition last year, is a market leader in GIS-centric public asset management. It was the first solutions provider to receive Esri’s ArcGIS Indoors solution designation earlier this spring, and its mobile native app works seamlessly with ArcGIS Indoors to help organizations manage vertical assets. Recenty, it released a new real-time IoT solution that combines Trimble sensor data, ArcGIS location data, and Cityworks operations data in one seamless asset management solution for water and wastewater utilities.

“All our infrastructure – the streets, the water infrastructure, the sewer infrastructure, the electric infrastructure – needs constant management. One aspect of our solution is to provide asset owners the ability to care for their infrastructure and make sure they are maintained well and are operational,” Mastakas explains. Another side of Cityworks covers the gamut of permits. “We are talking about building permits, code enforcement and a whole host of areas that where you need to track applications that come in. While all that infrastructure are getting created, at various stages they need inspections and tracking that the work was done right and the permits were processed properly. Foundationally that’s what Cityworks provides.”

Cityworks can help manage COVID-19 data, facility closures, and test site management.

Cityworksreleased a COVID solution back in mid April. The objective was to provide organizations with a way for them to track, clean and monitor asstes. “The big thing back then was test centers that were coming up and informing people. Our city customers were getting a barrage of queries from worried citizens about their health. So we provided in our solution a way to engage the citizen and let them kind of self check and determine if there were fine or if they had the symptoms and what was the closest testing facility.”

Another important aspect of Cityworks COVID-19 response is tracking and facilitating operations as they relate to federal funding opportunities. With Project Manager, Cityworks users can track emergency-related work such as managing testing and distribution sites, donations, and PPE or other material inventories.

As Covid-19 continues to be a challenge for many communities, now they are also preparing for hurricane and wildfire seasons with limited resources. Cityworks is supporting ArcGIS solutions for COVID-19 and emergence management — helping communities take services online, reprioritize fieldwork, streamline FEMA reporting, and inform residents.

For instance, in City of Topeka in Kansas,several departments are using a Cityworks project to track labor, cost, and materials associated with the ongoing Covid-19 response. The city is also an avid user of GIS data for open data reporting to the public. They are using Survey123 and a map dashboard embedded in their public website to help local businesses self-report their availability and services during the pandemic.


In Florida, the St. Johns County Public Works Department is using Survey123 and ArcGIS Operations Dashboard to help managers monitor employee work availability while also protecting staff health and safety. The solution was so effective for the PWD that the County Administrator requested an expanded version of the solution to support more than 1,300 employees across all departments.

In May-June, Cityworks incorporated capabilities around business reopening — where businesses would have to apply to reopen and how they would reopen. Citizens could also report businesses that were reopening not following the rules. “Those solutions are still continue and we will continue to provide them. They have the potential to become more of an emergency management solution so that our customers can leverage them during natural disasters,” Mastakas adds. For instance, Salt Lake City experienced an earthquake in March which destroyed some buildings while many others needed to be inspected for damages. Cityworks included some earthquake-related workflows in the solution.

Innovations in asset monitoring

Asset monitoring is a critical area for cities to function smoothly and there are some very interesting things happening in this space. For instance, the water infrastructure in the United States is graded ‘D’ by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). Over 65-67% of it is more than 50 years old, and at major risk of failure, making it an untenable problem for the asset owners. “How do you get ahead of a problem where you have all of this infrastructure underground? How can you figure out which are the bad areas and where to put your attention? You can’t inspect a water line very easily without digging it up,” he says.

So Cityworks recently introduced an IoT solution that deploys sensors in the network — in fire hydrants, valves, pipes, etc – and one can monitor the pressures in the water flow, or also listen for pressure transients (where there are fluctuations that can cause pipes to burst). “We have combined a realtime view with that technology so that water utilities not only get a report of the health of the network today, but are also able to look at trends to keep an eye on pressure variations etc, and can make adjustments if required. If we can identify and get ahead of these problems, we can save on repairs, disruptions and damages,” he says.

covid-19 indoor mapping

Cityworks is also working with ESRI and Trimble in three dimensional space. While Trimble’s scanners enable scanning of buildings and infrastructure and sourcing of that information, Esri’s ArcGIS Indoors makes it ready consumption and operations for asset management. “Knowing where your assets are, how they relate to other assets, the system to which they belong are all powerful tools.”  There are also initial endeavours into 3D mixed reality. For instance, if would trees conflict with an infrastructure here. Trees are a big problem in the United States as well as in Canada when their branches break or fall on the electric infrastructure and trip them. Southern California is witness to fires due to this, causing massive losses for electricity companies. “Electric infrastructure runs through people’s personal properties — right through their backyards in some cases – and home owners are very protective about their trees. But you can show them the projection of the trees’ growth and the damage they can cause,” he says.

Another really exciting application of mixed reality is viewing underground infrastructure in relation to the real world, so field workers can literally see the underground pipes and where they are located and what equipment they might need to help solve the problem that they are looking into.

ALSO READ: Indoor Positioning: What do you do in a building when your GPS stops working?

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