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Image of a sinkhole near a road

Imagine seeing your car or even your home swallowed by a sinkhole. Imagine that the land you were looking to develop now has sinkholes. Imagine being a first responder and finding the street you were traveling is now closed due to a sinkhole. While this is nothing new, we encounter them more often as our population grows in areas where they are more likely to occur. As the rate of reporting increases, so does the demand for information. So much information in fact, that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) – the State’s lead agency for geographic information system (GIS) – struggled to keep up with demand.

This was the case in 2017, when a large sinkhole opened in Pasco County, swallowing two houses and endangering nine others. The demand for information spiked. FDEP received over 10,000 hits to its site for information requests that week alone – from the public, local governments, the media, property appraisers, insurance adjusters, and first responders. During peak hours, FDEP’s web servers were inaccessible for up to a few hours per day. As the State’s largest steward of programmatic spatial data, including mission-critical data, FDEP needed to find a way to scale to meet demand.

Enter Esri ArcGIS on Azure.

FDEP has been using Esri ArcGIS to gather, manage, and analyze data since the 80s. The Department stored its GIS data locally, on desktops and on servers in its datacenters. That approach met its needs at the time. But times change. With the vision and support of FDEP leadership and the Florida State Legislature, the Department embarked on its move to host web services on Azure. While the need to scale resources was the driver, FDEP also gained a cost-effective, resilient and secure cloud platform that allowed it to do much more.

By moving its systems to the Azure cloud, people can now access the data they need, when then need it. But the benefits didn’t end there. Staff can now tweak configuration on the fly, whether in the field or in the office. Monitoring tools provide insight on just about everything, from web traffic to hardware consumption. Now geologists can use ArcGIS editing services in their mobile field operations to verify sinkhole reports from the public and use ESRI collector applications to differentiate “real sinkholes” from other subsidence caused by rotting tree roots or human activity. The verified reports are then QA’d and dynamically fed to the library layers. Map journals and story maps allow the Department to actively communicate its successes and share information with its stakeholders and community partners. Field workers use mobile data collection applications rather than GPS units or paper forms, making their data capture more accurate and timelier. The public, first responders, the insurance community, university researchers, and FDEP staff can search for and add dynamic geologic services to their web maps for analysis and data sharing to improve environmental decision making.

The reliability Azure provides allows us to reference these data in mission critical applications and provide dynamic updates for emergency response, with confidence,” said Kimberly Jackson, GIS Manager, Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

“We have become the test case for other state agencies, and many are beginning to implement their cloud strategies based on what we’ve achieved,” said Kevin Nguyen, GIS Infrastructure Systems Project Consultant, at FDEP.

Subsidence Map

As of today, the Department authoritative data sets run on Azure on topics ranging from hazardous waste to paddling trails and from coral reefs to beach mice habitat. When FDEP first migrated to the cloud in November 2017, it had close to 2.5 million web requests and in 2019 the web servers average 5 million hits per day, making Esri ArcGIS on Azure critical to its mission, the mission of other stakeholders and to the community it serves.

“I am consistently impressed with the Florida DEP staff, they deliver critical information products quickly during crisis and daily events, from hurricane response to seasonal environmental issues,” said Anthony Puzzo, Business Development Manager at Esri. “By deploying the ArcGIS platform in Azure Cloud, Florida DEP can ensure that their information will continue to be highly available for everyone who needs it, no matter the scale – whether it’s an emergency that impacts the local community or an event that demands the attention of anyone. They are ready to deliver.”

About Florida DEP:

With over 550 ArcGIS Online named users and over 500 desktop Esri users, FDEP provides enterprise GIS services to over 4,000 staff in the Tallahassee complex and in and field offices around the State.

FDEP staff, Universities, State Park visitors and the general public use GIS every day to access information via web maps, story maps, and open data portal analytics for improved environmental decision making as DEP leverages Azure and Esri to ensure accessibility for all stakeholders in our community.

Find out more information on Esri’s GIS solutions and see more information on Microsoft solutions for state and local government.