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New budget funds electronic plan review for all PDS projects

Posted on July 29, 2016
Submitting a plat, a site plan, or building plans to PDS for review and approval? You won’t need to hit the PRINT button on your CAD system to create the hard copies for submission. The agency’s FY17 budget includes funds for transitioning its staff to electronic plan reviews and away from paper. Full implementation of the new process is expected by next June.

“We took our first step in this direction two years ago when we purchased development-tracking software,” said Dennis Gordon, FAICP, PDS’ executive director. “Virtually everything we do now as an agency—planning, engineering, building review, and code enforcement—is stored in TRAKiT. And, because our GIS provides the supporting foundation for the entire tracking system, all records are tied to the parcels on which the activity takes place.”

The TRAKiT system employed by PDS has made accessing records and tying those records to individual parcels significantly less time-consuming, according to Gordon. The one exception to this new process is the time it takes staff to scan paper images into the electronic system, and of course the time it takes then to handle the resulting paper.

“Handling plans in electronic format is going to improve the workflow in several ways,” Gordon suggested. “Staff will be able to receive plans, applications, and payments via email using PayPal. Those same time savers will apply to customers who won’t need to drive to our office any longer. They won’t have to buy paper and print plans—some that look more like small logs than anything else—and we won’t have to scan and eventually dispose of them.”

One of the great benefits of TRAKiT’s all-electronic format is that inspectors can access all relevant records and plans in the field using their iPads and the internet. Being able to review original plans rather than scanned versions of those plans will only improve this ability.

Gordon said that builders in particular have wanted to be able to submit plans electronically for some time. The technology to do that has existed for quite a while. But, he suggests, electronic plan review needed to be part of an overall strategy for improving workflow for PDS customers and staff—and that took time.

“We’re happy to be able finally to meet our customers’ requests,” Gordon said. “PDS is a service organization. Even though our customers don’t have the ability to go to a competitor for the services we provide, we try to operate in a manner as though they do.”

Transitioning to electronic plan review will begin sometime in the fall, once software and hardware are purchased. As staff are trained on the software, they will eventually move away from paper plans toward CAD drawings on their computer screens.

“We intend to pursue this transition in a slow and easy manner,” concluded Gordon. “We’ll all have things to learn, customers and staff alike. We want this to go as smoothly as possible.”

PDS will continue to accept plans on paper for the foreseeable future.

Staff facilitates public information with social media posts

Posted on June 07, 2016

George Bernard Shaw once opined that “the single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” Mr. Shaw was obviously not thinking of social media when he offered his assessment of the need to communicate. His opinion is nonetheless as pertinent today as it was during his lifespan in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

With the understanding that in 2015 the average time spent per adult user per day with digital media is 5.6 hours, and 51% of that time is on a mobile device, PDS staff members are growing the agency’s presence on various social media platforms. The goal is to keep the public informed on what it’s pursuing and how citizens can get engaged.

PDS’ Facebook page and Twitter page (@PDSKC) has been online for several years now and Pete Berard, the agency’s public information coordinator, has used that platform to provide timely notices to followers for some time.

The GIS team committed to social media communications last year when team members realized that hanging one of their maps in a room or hallway was not going to reach the masses and was not a very effective way to spread useful information.

Trisha Brush, GISP, Director of GIS Administration (@twbrush) was the first to tweet, “Join us for the future of trails in NKY meeting 9:00AM at NKAPC sponsored by Green Umbrella.” Members of her staff followed by creating a twitter account (@nkymaplab) for residents to follow staff’s monthly NKYmapLAB initiative. The mapLAB account is managed by Louis Hill, GISP, AICP, the agency’s geospatial data analyst.

The push to social media is a response in understanding how citizens receive their daily news, and an acknowledgement to the age and technologically savvy citizens that live in the Northern Kentucky area.

Dennis Gordon, FAICP, executive director at PDS, is gearing up for a twitter account dealing with planning issues and news of PDS’ projects.

“I read a good deal about planning in different parts of the country and am always coming across articles I believe are relevant to issues here in Kenton County,” said Gordon. “Until I witnessed what our GIS folks were able to accomplish with tweets, I wasn’t able to share those experiences with friends and acquaintances here locally. I’ll soon be tweeting along with members of my staff.

Gordon says other staff members will follow him over the course of FY17 which begins next month.

Social media posts typically cover project updates, approaches to solving new problems, and success stories. Posts can spark conversations that follow any number of directions. In many cases they can lead to new opportunities, more frequent staff interactions, and an increased awareness as to the overall capabilities of PDS.

Benefits the GIS team has realized by using apps like Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and GeoNet are increased data sharing, a wider reaching audience, networking opportunities and best management practices. Keeping current on industry standards and development are major rewards as well.

“Rather than waiting for formal venues, such as conferences and organized training, to network, we are doing it on a weekly basis” said Hill. “We’ve also widened the reach of our products and services through professional social media use. We have more eyes on our work, receive more feedback, and have increased the overall quality in our products.”

PDS’ GIS team and the LINK-GIS partnerships ascertained that the good data and works of the GIS team, which seemed obvious to the partnership, failed to translate into effective external communications. The messages seldom reached outside the partnership.

Using social media as a deliberate tactic in communication has resulted in unforeseen increased revenue by 25 percent for PDS and the LINK-GIS partnerships.


Local group presents info and stories about the March 2, 2012 tornado

Posted on April 19, 2016

Staff pays to ‘toss the boss’ in Special Olympics’ annual Polar Plunge

Posted on March 04, 2016

It was a frosty Saturday morning earlier this month when five PDS staff members showed up to participate in the annual Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Polar Bear Plunge challenge. One of them, PDS’ executive director Dennis Gordon, FAICP, had never considered doing such a “crazy thing” but joined the group willingly. The goal was to raise money for the Special Olympics and they succeeded.

When approached initially with the idea of participating in the Polar Bear Plunge, Gordon was standing before the staff during an agency-wide staff meeting. As comments grew encouraging him to agree to being tossed, Gordon took the challenge if the staff could raise $1,000 to support Special Olympics. The staff responded affirmatively and the deal was struck. Staff set out immediately to raise the funds.

“When staff first challenged me to join in, I was somewhat hesitant,” said Gordon. “Jumping into frigid water on a winter day had never come close to being included on my bucket list. But then I considered the reason for the challenge—Special Olympics—and decided it was worth whatever discomfort I’d have to endure.”

Donations for the “PDS Plungers” came from all sources, as many were excited to see the boss get tossed! Not only did those who were spearheading the effort contribute, but also staff members and other local officials. By jump day, the team not only met its goal, but exceeded it by raising over $1,300.

Team members besides Gordon were: Gary Forsyth, Associate Building Official; Robyn Woodley, Principal Permit Clerk; Ryan Hermann, Associate GIS Specialist; and, Alex Koppelman, Associate Planner.

The cold winter’s morning finally came and the “PDS Plungers” met at the jump site, Joe’s Crab Shack in Bellevue. Each member represented PDS by sporting their “PDS Plungers” shirt, with the recognizable logo. The temperature was in the upper 30s but the sun shone brightly. Huddled around a small heater, the team laughed and talked about how cold the water must be.

When the time finally came for them to take the plunge, the “PDS Plungers” wished each other well while representatives from Fox 19 News and Cincinnati’s Q102 gave the countdown. “Three… Two… One… JUMP!” SPLASH!

The “PDS Plungers” jumped together and exited the pool in near record time; the water was a skin- and bone- numbing 46 degrees.

When asked about the experience the following Monday morning, Gordon responded. “I still can’t believe how cold that water was… but I’m glad we could raise money for an extremely worthy cause.”

Special Olympics’ mission is to provide year-round sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.

This is not the last time you will see the “PDS Plungers,” as the team’s next goal is to double its members and funds raised for the 2016 Cincinnati Walk Now for Autism Speaks. If you are interested, save the date: May 14th at Coney Island.

“Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.” – Helen Keller
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