Proactive Maintenance Starts with Good Record-Keeping

Two municipalities, one age-old problem: knowing where and how to spend money and time on the infrastructure repairs that matter most. Just as retail giant John Wanamaker once lamented, ?Half the money I spend [on advertising] is wasted; the trouble is I don?t know which half,? local governments cannot budget wisely if they lack good records of their asset inventory and maintenance history.

The need to document becomes even more crucial when municipalities lose valuable system knowledge with retiring workers, and must comply with stringent government reporting requirements, such as GASB34 and the U.S. EPA?s National Pollutant Discharge and Elimination System (NPDES) permitting for Capacity, Management, Operation and Maintenance (CMOM) of municipal sanitary sewer collection systems.

Fortunately, most U.S. municipalities already have a base technology in place that can help them manage their infrastructure more effectively: GIS ? a system for storage, retrieval, mapping and analysis of geographic data. A majority of local governments have maps, or are in the process of mapping their water and wastewater utility infrastructure, and the GIS often serves as the central, authoritative dataset for all asset locations and relevant attributes, such as pipe sizes and equipment types.

GIS can answer the ?where? questions, but not the ?how,? and ?why,? which is where asset management comes in. When GIS is integrated with an asset management system, the result is a powerful, highly-effective decision support tool for maintaining and reporting on the health of your physical infrastructure.
Asset management is also scalable, making it affordable for any-size municipality. Below is the story of how the City of Burnsville, Minn., and Town of Merrimack, N.H., rapidly transitioned from paper-based record-keeping to proactive asset management.

Burnsville: Keeping a Lid on Sanitary Sewer Overflows and More

Burnsville, population 63,000 is a major retail center in Minnesota. Too many sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs) finally pushed the city to investigate asset management as a better way to document, meet NPDES permitting requirements, collect real-time data and perform system maintenance for its sanitary and storm sewer assets. ?We lacked good maintenance records on our sanitary assets,? said Tyler Erickson, GIS Technician for Burnsville. ?For example, when we experienced a sewer backup, it was hard to determine when it was last cleaned. We spent money on things we should not have because we could not find all of the relevant, paper-based information.?

Collecting and sharing real-time information with field work crews was an essential component of Burnsville?s CMOM strategy. The city selected VUEWorks, a web-enabled work order and asset management solution that integrates seamlessly with the city?s ESRI ARCServer GIS. ?VUEWorks offered the best integration with our GIS, but what really sold us was that we can use VUEWorks to manage not only the GIS assets, but also entire facilities, down to the service panels and pumps,? Erickson said. The city is currently managing approximately 90 percent of its sanitary sewer asset inventory with VUEWorks? Facility Module, covering 215 miles of pipes, 13 lift stations, 6,000 manholes and a water treatment plant.

The majority of Burnsville?s asset information was collected and entered into VUEWorks from the field. During a recent lift station inventory, crews logged details like model numbers and SCADA data from panels. Now when the city has a problem ? for example, a phase monitor goes out ? utility crews have all the information they need to quickly solve the issue. Routine maintenance can also be scheduled via recurring work orders, as the city has done for the HVAC, electrical, fluctuators and chemical feed systems on its surface water treatment plant. ?Our Utility Superintendent and crews love the fact that they can generate work orders from anywhere and quickly access the information they need,? Erickson said.

Having achieved big gains in service quality, efficiency and problem resolution response time, Burnsville plans to expand its use of VUEWorks to cover storm water, streets, parks, sign reflectivity and natural resources. The city tracked service calls for snowplow-damaged mail boxes this past winter, and there are plans to develop a tree database, where the asset management software will be used to trigger tree trimming maintenance. The engineering department can both view and set up guest accounts for contractors who need to view as-built drawings. In the future, the city may apply asset management to infrastructure rented by third parties, such as telephone poles and water towers.

?The more information we can capture and track in our asset management system, the better decisions we can make to protect our city,? Erickson said.

Merrimack?s CMOM Program Helps Secure Project Funding

The Town of Merrimack, N.H., population 27,000, manages and maintains 92 miles of sewer pipe and 1,500 manholes. Like Burnsville, Merrimack had a paper-based maintenance program, and achieving CMOM compliance while continuing to provide reliable service to its customers were the primary drivers in adopting an asset management solution. Merrimack also faced an additional challenge ?the need to capture valuable system knowledge from a soon-to-be retiring key staff member.

VUEWorks appealed to Merrimack because it could easily be configured to mimic the structure of its paper-based system. VUEWorks work orders were configured to capture the same information and match the look and feel of paper forms. The result, according to Merrimack, was an easy transition for workers with minimal training. ?Our staff has taken a great liking to the system. They can find what they need when they need to look at it. Other systems we evaluated were not nearly as flexible as VUEWorks, and would have required more training time and budget,? commented Jim Taylor, Assistant Director of Public Works/Wastewater Treatment Facility.

Merrimack uses a computerized system that triggers an alarm in the event of an SSO, and uses VUEWorks to document alarms as service calls. The service call is promptly emailed to those who need to know ? operators on call, work crews, the supervisor and payroll. ?The information gets to the right people and we don?t have to worry that someone will forget to report the information. It becomes a permanent record and building block of our CMOM program,? Taylor said.

Years of valuable maintenance history and asset inventory data exist in detailed spreadsheets that have been carefully tended by Don Hamel, Sewer Systems Collection Manager. The manhole database, for example, assigns a unique ID number to every manhole, and records information such as where it is located, elevations, connections and even video clips captured by an inline camera that document the asset?s current condition. The spreadsheets are being integrated with VUEWorks, and the information will be readily accessible to those who need it. In the future, Merrimack hopes to integrate other maintenance and accounting databases.

?Before VUEWorks, we had to rely on one staff member ? Don ? to log valuable maintenance data. Now, we?ve trained our staff to enter their own data in VUEWorks, and will soon purchase laptops so that work crews can report data in real-time from the field, as well as access the GIS map. Implementing VUEWorks has been like ?one-stop shopping? ? everything we need for CMOM reporting, as well as to maintain our infrastructure assets, are contained in a single, easy-to-access system.?

?I believe that our asset management solution will be a valuable tool for securing adequate funding,? Hamel said. ?Now that our maintenance data is loaded into VUEWorks, we can use it to predict future costs and evaluate different options and repairs over time. It will be an aid in convincing the powers that be to fund various projects. ?

Trend Toward Mobile Data Collection

The trend toward municipalities wanting to view the GIS map and collect and report information from the field is gaining momentum, according to Alex von Svoboda, Director of Sales and Marketing for VUEWorks. ?We?ve had a surge of requests from people who want to view the GIS map and enter asset data from smart phones and iPads. Connection capabilities are growing stronger by the day. VUEWorks will be here to support our customers as their work processes increasing move into the wireless realm.?

Becky Stevens is principal of Virtual Marketing LLC, a marketing firm that specializes in technology, engineering and manufacturing.

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