Tag Archives: GPS Loacte

Where is IMS on Your TO-DO list?

Bill Tone

Are you serious about prioritizing your infrastructure into First Place on your TO-DO List? If so, you must have a real discussion about the parts and pieces that make up the infrastructure of you utility? Where do you begin: with the unprotected source of your water, the electrical grid that keeps everything (and I do mean everything) running, your treatment plants – pumping – stations – storage-tanks, the aged and venerable collection and distribution system, the all important 100-year design considerations, your security system, the emergency response plan and personnel’s emergency response training, your communication system that doesn’t connect every department, or the lack a meaningful infrastructure management database that includes all the vital elements of your systems?

An airplane pilot will tell us it’s impossible to land his plane if he is flying blind. He will explain that he must have data to land the plane, he must know where he is, his altitude, his destination, his fuel range, and usually communications are good things to have. Like the pilot, you need data before you can begin evaluate the condition your infrastructure. The lack of accurate and verifiable data may well be the reason managers appear so unwilling to honestly prioritize the importance of infrastructure management and why they continue to put band-aids and tourniquets on a dying patient instead of performing life-saving transplants. Managers just do not know where to begin.

Do you honestly believe you can always put off to tomorrow what needs to be done today? Natural disasters that cause major disruption to utilities are in the news every day, and we all know that “there, but for the Grace of God go I”. Post 9/11, the U.S. woke up to the threat of terrorism that plagued much of the world for years. Today, countries have the common understanding that they must guard against terrorist threats to their infrastructures. Here in the U.S., governmental agencies issue regulations that mandate utilities take specific action to protect the public in the event of terrorist attacks. While municipalities benefit by this added regulation because they improve their emergency response plans,   most utility infrastructure database are not keeping pace with the preparedness planning. Has yours?

If a utility focuses on developing an accurate and verifiable infrastructure database, it will be able to answer the question of where to start improving its infrastructure. With a meaningful database, utilities will begin to generate huge savings that will quickly offset the cost of building the database. Unfortunately, many managers put short-term budget considerations ahead of long range infrastructure improvement considerations; they don’t seem to grasp the cost saving benefits of developing a sound database.

Although it varies by country, the old “let the next guy worry about it” attitude continues to be pervasive in our industry. Of course, modern accounting practices, such as Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 and the GASB 34 Summary Statement, that mandate accurate valuation of assets based on anticipated life and replacement cost, are pushing utilities toward a reliable valuation of their assets. Cities with old, outdated and deteriorated assets have experienced downgrading of municipal utility bonds and now must pay higher interest rates on their bonds. If your infrastructure is up-to-date, how much less interests will  your tax payer customers have to pay? Isn’t it just possible that this saving on interest will pay for the database and all rehabilitation?

In April, Utah State University published a widely circulated a research paper by Steven Folkman entitled, Water Main Break Rates for the United States and Canada. The study encompasses 10% of the nations’ installed water main network and reveals, “The average age of the failing water mains is 47-years old and 22% of all mains are over 50-years old.”  In the introduction to the AWWA thirty seven page paper, Buried No Longer by AWWA, the authors start out with this chilling statement: “A new kind of challenge is emerging in the United States, one that for many years was largely buried in our national consciousness. Now it can be buried no longer. Much of our drinking water infrastructure, the more than one million miles of pipes beneath our streets, is nearing the end of its useful life and approaching the age at which it needs to be replaced. Moreover, our shifting population brings significant growth to some areas of the country, requiring larger pipe networks to provide water service.” What is the average age of pipes on your systems?

The obvious answer to the question of where to start is you begin the unraveling process by developing an accurate and verifiable database.  Picture building a new utility system: You start by installing piping systems for water, wastewater and storm; these systems consist of valves, hydrants, mains and structures. Apart from roads and highways, these four devices (vales, hydrants, mains and structures) comprise a large part of your utility’s capital investment and are absolutely critical to your system’s operation; they also are going to be a large part of future rehabilitation, as you work toward building a 100-year plus design life for your infrastructure. Aside from electricity, valves, hydrants, mains and structures are the critical control points you need when catastrophe occurs; they are vital during breaks; they are absolutely necessary to mitigate exposure and damage during natural disasters, or terrorist attack. Do you know where your devices are, or if they are working as designed? Can you rely on your infrastructure systems under the worst of conditions?

Today is the time for this discussion to begin.  What are your thoughts about the foregoing? Can you offer an alternative approach? What has been your experience with infrastructure management in your utility?

Look  at www.gethurco.com for solutions on where to start.

In the Beginning was GLOB

I once worked for a concrete pipe manufacturer who had an inventory management system we affectionately named “GLOB” – Go Look Out Back. When a customer placed an order, we walked out back and looked at what we had in stock. Later, when an integrated inventory system was installed, we were all cautioned about “GIGO,” not the insurance company,  but Garbage-in-Garbage-out. 

Program bugs exist in every automated integrated  system, but the biggest bug of all is the Human Bug. Everyone wants to be honest, so you must reluctantly admit that machines make fewer mistakes. The dumb mentality of computers insures an error free environment. (Remember program errors are human errors too.) The more jobs you can delegate to a machine the more productive humans are, and the more accurate is the information you are gathering.

Let’s face it, GLOB and GIGO don’t  work when you are building and maintaining an Infrastructure Management System.  Although humans  will make mistakes inputting the data, or the historical data itself  may be inaccurate,  manual input and transcription  of existing historical records is still the logical  place to start building your IMS database; but, you will have inaccuracies you need to correct and information that needs to be verified,

The key question is  what  you do to correct, verify, expand, and maintain the database? Do you still use the GLOB system to determine if your valves and hydrants are operating? Do you know how much water is available to fight a fire from each fire hydrant? How much water do you have for that new sub division? Do you accurately account for you flushing water? Do you continue  to use manual methods to input collected  data generated from the field; or, do you strive to eliminate human error, the GIGO factor? Do you rely on typing  data into hand-held computers in the field, or do you find ways to automatically record field data directly into wireless hand-held computers and transmit  data instantaneously  over wi-fy to your IMS database? Do all your departments share access to your IMS database? The are tough and important questions you need to consider.

Any stone age argument that automation isn’t cost-effective just doesn’t examine the total cost of trying to manually maintain an IMS database. Incorrect and incomplete data often results in  costly decisions that are just plain wrong. Improving management decisions more than out ways the cost of automating the data collection process.

Utility managers and politicians must realize the best solution doesn’t really cost more. Start searching today for ways to automate the collection of field data gathered during the simple work order events your crews do every day:

  • Valve & Hydrant GPS Locates
  • Valve & Hydrant Exercising;
  • Fire Flow Testing
  • Unidirectional  Flushing
  •  c-Factor Testings
  •  Valve, Hydrant and Main Maintenance and Repair.

Every day these common work order events generate important information that can be used to determine the condition of your waterworks system infrastructure; automated equipment solutions exist to capture the information generated during each of these events in an accurate and verifiable manner. Start today collecting your data the right way. Move away from the GLOB mentality and search out  automated solutions to eliminate  the human condition that results in  GIGO. I guarantee you will make everyone’s job a whole lot easier.

For a place to start your search, take a look at http://www.hurcotech.com/

(To be continued)


Understanding the complex infrastructure of a utility system is the key to managing its assets and controlling your system. Infrastructure-101 teaches that accurate data is necessary before we can even start to evaluate and manage a utility system. GIS systems with streets, property line demarcations, and customer identification and accounts are only the beginning.

For example: If your interests are water, wastewater, reclaimed water, and storm utilities, on top of the standard municipal GIS database , you want to overlay water plants, storage tanks, pumps, electrical grids, telemetry, thousands of valves and hydrants, millions of feet of mains, backflow prevention equipment, corrosion monitoring, and water meters, and you’re on the right path. On top of these, add wastewater layers with manholes and lift-stations, distributions and collection mains, more treatment plants and pump stations, telemetry and power grids and you’re getting closer to a meaningful database. Now add reclaimed water mains, valves , hydrants, mains, plants and more power grid information. One more layer to add is storm water collections system pipes and structures and environmental monitoring stations. Have we overlooked anything? What about quality results from lab reports from water treatment, condition assessment of mains, valves and hydrants, flushing programs, and all the required reports. Do you want to attach operational assets like fleet maintenance information , computers, software, buildings, and security? Better add and capture historical data too. Mind boggling isn’t it? And, we have not even asked the important questions.

The Queen in Alice in Wonderland might ask you, “If you have data yesterday, and you have data tomorrow, but you never have data today, how many times a week do you have data?” Do you remember the answer? The Wonderland analogy applies to 99% of all municipalities that have data stored somewhere. Ask yourself, “Is the data I have collected complete and accurate enough to be of use? Do I trust it enough to make reliable managment decissions? Is the data being collected in a reliable manner that insures accuracy? Or, do I need more current data before I make a decision?”

Right this moment, today, can you say your database has accurate and current information about all the valves, hydrants and mains in your system? Or, are you not sure? The Queen might tell Alice, “If you are not sure, then you never have data, becasue it’s always today.” To which Alice would honestly reply, “But you always need data today, otherwise why have it at all?”

Everyday you are investing a great deal of money in an infrastructure database, to provide information when you need it for making decisions. You need accurate, current, complete data, otherwise you don’t have data. Your have junk. Remember, “Junk in, junk out?”

So in true Alice like fashion, you scream in frustration! “How can I possibly always have all the data I need? And how can I expect it to be current and accurate. Alice, you’re right, it is always today; but, my systems are evolving and changing by the hour, much less by the day; it’s impossible to have a current history on all my assets!”

Your frustration is understandable and the question is well put. The answer is you cannot expect real time information on all you assets. However, you can expect the data you have collected to be accurate, and verifiable to the best of your ability. You can expect to maximize the quality of your collection effort to insure accuracy and minimize cost. If you are still manually collecting and transferring data into your database, you will have develped many inaccuracies in your overall records.

Today, there is no reason to allow inaccurate data to creep into your information management system. Inexpensive technology exists to automate data collection and verify information already entered. Manual transcription of data is out. GPS locates, test data from valve & hydrant exercising , fire flow test data, unidirectional flushing and c-Factor test data can all be collected automatically and downloaded to any infrastructure management system. All this information is verifiable and accurate. You can rely on it. Plus, automated collection efforts are much less expensive compared to manual systems.

If you haven’t already considered maximizing automation of your data collection effort, you should start today. The answer is out there. Take a minute to search for it. Your will be pleasantly surprised. You might consider starting with a visit to the HURCO Technologies website.

You do know, Alice in Wonderland really isn’t a children’s book?