ARCHDIOCESE OF PORTLAND IN OREGON
The Archdiocese of Portland operates two local cemeteries and a third, smaller facility in Eugene, Oregon. As part of its mission to Catholics and others in the community, the Archdiocese offers a complete array of services, including in-ground interment, crypt entombment, and cremation niche placement. The Archdiocese also operates a full-service funeral home and crematory. The larger of the two local cemeteries, Mount Calvary, has capacity for 50,000 in-ground interments within its 80 developed acres. The smaller, Gethsemani, occupies 18 acres and houses the funeral home and crematorium. The Archdiocese assumed operation of the Eugene facility, also known as Mt. Calvary, in 1995.
As Director of Funeral Services for the Archdiocese for more than 20 years, Tim Corbett was aware of the serious limitations inherent in paper-based mapping. When he determined the time was right for the Archdiocese to transition to digital maps, portability was high on the list of requirements he outlined in his RFP (Request For Proposal). Over the years, Tim had developed full-featured management software for the Archdiocese and wanted mapping software to work with that system. He knew he might one day move away from his internally-developed database if a true industry standard arose. He was determined that he be able to utilize his mapping even if he made a management system change. Tim further insisted that his mapping vendor use established industry standards rather than some proprietary software- he was determined not to be tied to one vendor or system.
As with many cemeteries in the US, the Portland Archdiocese relied on paper maps for most of their business and operations. Reliance on paper records results in two areas of concern:
Cemetery maps based on decades-old surveys may not accurately reflect the current details of the grounds, adding an element of uncertainty to sales and operational decisions.
Daily reliance on paper maps introduces multiple opportunities for errors. Since paper maps make checking or disproving errors difficult, those errors can easily become part of the facility’s permanent record.
“ Sales and related activities would get written on the map...we’d double check the maps at the end of the month, we’d keep backup copies, typically on Mylar. At the end of the month, we’d transfer all the names from the paper maps to the Mylar maps. The paper would get real beat up, of course, so we’d create new ones from the Mylar maps. Just think about how many opportunities for errors that creates! ”
Solution - WEBMAP
After a thorough review of industry offerings, Corbett chose WebMap from Behar Mapping. An interactive, cloud-based GIS mapping platform for cemetery plots and utilities, WebMap offers location-based precision and security in real-time. Behar Mapping was the only respondent to his RFP that seemed both willing and able to work with the existing management software, and WebMap seemed the perfect solution to manage inventory, identify available plots and helping guide visitors. WebMap guarantees speed, accuracy, and ease of use. It is highly configurable, and Behar’s team are experts in the use of color-coding different inventory types and the current availability status of each. This facilitates easy-to-use, high-impact visual queries for management, staff and families.
“ Sure, we can run reports all day out of our management system, but the data doesn't jump out at you like WebMap visuals do. The images make it so easy for us to communicate internally about what's happening operationally...
so much better than before.”
During the digitization process, the Archdiocese provided copies of all their maps to Behar, along with access to their internal database. The maps were converted to a verified, GIS-based mapping database, meaning that every individual and each location would be digitally tied to a highly accurate GPS location.
“ The conversion process was extremely thorough. Dozens of old errors were discovered at each cemetery – many simply the result of names being jotted down on paper maps during a sales process which – for whatever reason – was never completed. This resulted in the finding of many graves previously marked as sold that were, in fact, still available. ”
Once the cemetery’s digitized data came into view, Corbett immediately knew the benefits would be far greater than he expected. In addition to giving him highly accurate, highly detailed views of all graves and operations, WebMap revealed a tremendous amount of unused space that could now be put to use
as cremation graves – each about half the size as standard internment space. Corbett instructed Behar to include these new spaces in WebMap. The result was an additional $500,000 worth of inventory – far more than the cost of the entire mapping project.
Tim’s management system now sends automatic updates to WebMap several times each day, guaranteeing that the team is always working with the most current data. Behar also incorporated cemetery utilities into the digital maps, a new and invaluable resource for the maintenance team.
“ All of a sudden, we were seeing gaps and spaces between platted graves that we could use as cremation graves – which are about half the size as standard casket graves. As soon as I saw that I asked Behar to include them as new, available spaces on the new digital maps. We probably picked up $500,000 worth of inventory – far more than the cost of the entire mapping project. It was like ‘found money’.”
Portland is an extremely modern city, and once Corbett’s customers learned that cemetery maps had become digitized, they adapted very quickly. Today, most customers considering a property purchase use WebMap as a tool to help them search and select.
“ They narrow it down to a few choices, then we give them some pictures of the area and, once they find something that appeals to them, we can arrange a meeting onsite. During the Covid-19 pandemic, our new mapping system meant we could serve families remotely. The project was completed just before stay-at-home orders were implemented.
It was really instrumental in helping keep families and staff safe. ”
Corbett estimates that WebMap has led to a 95% reduction in map and record-keeping errors. Fewer errors mean faster, clearer customer communication, more accurate inventory, as well as more efficient maintenance. This new level of accuracy – combined with WebMap’s real-time data access – has given Corbett the kind of 360-degree insight into his business that paper maps never permitted.
“ I believe that digitizing our maps has reduced our errors by at least 95%.”