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Light-Duty Alternative Work Program Is a Winner
By Bonnie Shrewsbury, City of Manhattan Beach

Editor's note: An innovative program devised by the City of Manhattan Beach, a Southern California community of approximately 33,000, provided a win-win solution for updating infrastructure in the City's GIS while giving meaningful occupation to public works employees whose activities were restricted due to injury. These employees were uniquely qualified for the task of inventorying facilities, and their work has not only made the City's GIS far more valuable but has also enabled the City to be proactive in its compliance with Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) 34 legislation.

Public works employees, with their knowledge of the City and its facilities, were ideal for inventorying infrastructure.

GASB monitors the financial reporting methods for state and local governments. Modifications made in 1999 to Statement No. 34: Basic Financial Statements--and Management's Discussion and Analysis--for State and Local Governments make reporting standards more comprehensive so that they will better reflect the current state of government infrastructure. GIS supports both reporting methods stipulated in the standards.

The City's outstanding program was recognized in 2001 with a League of California Cities Helen Putnam Award for Excellence. This prestigious award program, established in 1982, honors cities for innovation and achievement.

The Challenges

Although GIS was initiated at the City of Manhattan Beach in 1992, it went largely underutilized for quite some time. When the GIS database was comprehensively evaluated in 1998, the existing infrastructure data (e.g., sewer, stormwater, water, electrical) were so substantially outdated that their accuracy was in question. One challenge was to update these data layers so that they could be useful in the GIS.

A second challenge was to input additional data into the GIS. As more people became aware of the capabilities of GIS, the demand for its services increased dramatically. With this increase in demand came the need for many additional data layers.

In addition, GASB34 legislation will soon require cities to inventory and assess values for all of its assets. Another challenge was to be proactive in complying with these requirements by having an inventory of infrastructure assets in place. The task of building a comprehensive GIS database through both the verification of the existing data and the collection of additional data was a formidable one.

The Solution

Occasionally the Public Works Department has maintenance/field employees who are injured during their regular duties. Depending on injury severity, some are assigned to "temporary light-duty" by their doctors. They are able to work in some capacity, but restrictions--such as weight limits for lifting--prevent them from performing regular, more physically demanding duties.

The GIS/Public Works Light-Duty Alternative Work Program was developed to temporarily reassign several of these light-duty employees to assist the GIS division. Armed with maps, they are sent out into the field to collect and verify data for the GIS database. Their working knowledge of the City and its infrastructure make them ideal for this type of assignment. Experienced field employees not only know what features such as electrical control meters and backflow devices look like but also are able to bring back additional information about the features. Their work is quite literally "value-added."

Since the Program was implemented in 1999, five light-duty employees have assisted the GIS Division for periods of time ranging from a few days to several months.

The Results

The results have been positive all around, not only benefiting the GIS division, but also the organization as a whole and the light-duty employees as well. The City has been able to keep these employees contributing to the organization on a full-time basis, rather than having to send them home. The employees benefit by being able to stay employed full-time rather than collecting disability pay, which is only two-thirds of their regular salary.

The benefits to the GIS have far exceeded expectations. Data has been collected and verified for public works features such as catch basins, sewer and storm manholes, backflow devices, light poles, pavement striping, tiled sidewalks, trash cans, bus stops, speed limit signs, and electrical meters. A wide variety of data has been collected for other departments as well. Parking spaces and meters were collected for the Finance Department, wireless telecommunication facilities were collected for the Community Development Department, and park features were collected for the Parks & Recreation Department. Also, field address verifications have contributed to many projects, including the integration of the Utility Billing database with the GIS.

Gathering data alone does not make a GIS successful. The true value of the data lies in how it is used. The catch basin data has been used in analyses of the City's stormwater system, including evaluation of optimal locations for Continuous Deflective Separator (CDS) units that filter stormwater before it reaches the ocean. The information on pavement striping and speed limit signs has been used for various traffic flow analyses.

The parking space and meter data was incorporated into a series of Parking Lot Index maps. Requests are often received to use part of a parking lot for projects such as entertainment filming or community events. Previously, staff had to go out into the field to research the parking space and meter information so that specific areas could be accurately designated for a given project. Now, using the Parking Lot Index maps at their desk not only saves staff time, but also improves turnaround time for these requests.

Long before California's "electricity crisis," the locations of the City's 166 electrical meters were collected into the GIS through the Alternative Work Program. When the electricity crisis became a concern, many energy-saving measures were put into place by the various City facilities. In order to evaluate the effectiveness of these measures, historic and current electricity usage information was easily added to the meter locations in the GIS. The result was a facility-by-facility electricity usage analysis that helped City officials not only to evaluate the energy-saving measures, but also to explain fluctuations in usage. While a map is not necessary, it is an effective way to visualize the analysis and it also enabled the identification of a meter that the City was being incorrectly billed for.

While some were skeptical about its effectiveness, the tremendous success of the Alternative Work Program suggests that these field employees should not be underestimated. The quality of their work has been excellent. The Public Works administration has been so pleased with the additional GIS data that they have expanded the Program to include downtime, such as rainy days, for some regular-duty employees. In fact, some of the employees who have participated in the Alternative Work Program will be having some field data collection with the City's recently purchased global positioning system (GPS) equipment incorporated into their regular duties.

Ultimately, the GIS/Public Works Light-Duty Alternative Work Program not only met the challenge of assisting in the development of a quality GIS database, but also benefited the City as an organization and the employees involved in the Program. In addition, the GIS data that has been collected in this ongoing Program will continue to be a valuable asset to the City.

For more information contact
Bonnie Shrewsbury, GIS Analyst
City of Manhattan Beach
1400 Highland Ave.
Manhattan Beach, California 90266
Tel.: 310-802-5360
E-mail: bshrewsbury@ci.manhattan-beach.ca.us

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