Vernon County mapping project continues

Friday, February 17, 2017

Nevada Daily Mail

On Wednesday, Paula Messner, Vernon County's technician for geographic information system and information technology spoke on the status of GIS mapping in the county and IT work at the courthouse.

According to Messner, next month, Midland GIS Solutions of Maryville will complete the long overdue mapping for use by county assessor, Cherie Roberts, and her staff.

In June 2015, the Vernon County Commission directed then GIS technician, Tim Bourassa, to complete the parcel layer of the geographic information system, which, at that time, had been out of compliance with the State Tax Commission for about seven years.

Each layer shows a different type of information, which can be displayed much like transparent overlays used on paper maps. Together, these records form the computerized record for each parcel of land in the county. Once created, the assessor's office itself will edit records as buildings or land boundaries change.

In 2015, the Vernon County commission directed Bourassa to stop his IT work in the courthouse and complete the mapping by a deadline of May 31, 2016. Messner was hired full time in January 2015 to help with the GIS work.

Bourassa left in August of 2015 with significant work yet to be completed on the GIS project.

As 2015 drew to a close, the county commission, in consultation with Messner, decided to hire an outside firm to finish the mapping work. In January 2016, the contract with Midland GIS Solutions was awarded and in March 2017, this work will at last be complete.

"After next month, the assessors office will be responsible for the ongoing work but I believe the contract includes Midland doing some training and support for the assessor's office for a short time," said Messner.

Back in 2004, the Vernon County Commission approved creation of a grid system for the naming of roads in order to better specify locations for purposes of sending fire, ambulance or sheriff's officers to a specific address.

All north-south running roads are given numbers (100 to 3125) while all east-west running roads alphabetically, use names significant to Vernon County (Aaron to Zodiac). This way, emergency services can find the roads numbered from where Waldo is (Waldo Rd.) as well as those called Earhart and No Horse.

Messner is still working out a number of errors discovered as the system has been in use.

The system is supposed to have assigned a given number of addresses for every mile range but she has identified stretches along a number of roads where the numbering is clearly off.

"There really aren't that many roads which there are questions about but it will take some computer work and some time out in the field in order to clean it up," said Messner.

If Messner did not have the IT work at the courthouse and could concentrate on just this project, she "could theoretically complete this in three months."

But in fact, Messner does wear the IT hat at the courthouse and so she finds herself juggling multiple projects at the same time.

The Vernon County Courthouse is served by a fiber optic cable connection. Messner was asked about computer security.

"That is something we take very seriously and while no system is perfect, I am grateful the Commission has made it possible for us to have a fairly robust system," said Messner.

The source of early problems with the courthouse computer network had to do with the email system and spam filter.

It is one thing for a network or system to be hacked and personal information accessed and another if ransomware is installed.

Ransomware is a type of malicious computer software, which severely restricts access to a computer, device or file until a ransom is paid by the user.

This is a criminal moneymaking scheme which can be installed through deceptive links in an email message, instant message or website. It has the ability to lock a computer screen or encrypt important, predetermined files with a password.

Asked, what would happen if the county network was hacked and files were held for ransom, Messner said she and others would try to determine the source of the attack but would not pay any ransom.

What about having no access to files or records?

"All files are saved frequently and each day information is sent to our two backup systems, both located off-site," said Messner. "We'd have the entire system back up in 30 minutes."

No ransom would be paid and the county would hardly skip a beat.

Messner utilizes image-based backup, a process which creates a copy of the operating system and all data associated with it, including the system state and application configurations. The backup is saved as a single file, which is referred to as an image.

Messner assists various offices as they select and make upgrades to computer hardware and software.

"That's given me the ability to collect and recondition some of the old equipment and store it in my office," said Messner. "That way, if an office has a failure, I can more quickly get them up and running and later take time to make repairs."

Besides Messner's work to include quality assurance of the addresses in the county, she has and continues to work at upgrading the courthouse's computer network, including cables, switches and routers. Presently, the network has a server at the Sheriff's Office and at the courthouse.

Said Messner. "While I pray we'll never have a catastrophic failure, if we do, I know county offices can be up and serving the public in a relatively short time."

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