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Facing the Challenge of Aging Infrastructure

The right tool for the job

In 2009, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave America’s infrastructure a “D.” When most of America’s infrastructure was originally built, the country was in a growth mode and engineered every specific project to be optimal before moving on, not always understanding the mechanics of the complete system—how the various projects or components worked together and how they affected each other at a more regional scale. To add to this complacency, underground infrastructure also suffered from the adage “out of sight, out of mind.” Today, with our limited budgets and declining workforce, we are experiencing the results of this oversight. We understand that infrastructure decays due to in situ conditions and operational extremes, material degradation and manufacturing defects, and dynamic loads not taken into account in the original design. We now know that skipped maintenance schedules shorten the life expectancy of our assets. Entire systems are being brought down by their weakest links.
A fundamental premise to asset management is understanding specific infrastructure performance metrics and derived useful life from an empirical review of failure history and condition assessment due to aging. The power of GIS technology comes alive when you extrapolate the performance of the known assets of your entire system, allowing you to define and understand the scope and magnitude of your aging infrastructure. It can show you what you don’t know. Once the problem is defined, it can be funded, engineered, and rehabilitated in a prioritized fashion.
Many GIS tools can be used to face this challenge. The spatial nature of distribution, collection, and transportation systems mandate a GIS-centric approach to your asset inventory. Spatial algorithms built into GIS can help you understand the causal effects of external factors on your infrastructure, both man-made and natural. Enterprise GIS is now reaching out beyond the office to field crews with mobile solutions and extends your workforce into the citizenry with smartphone applications. These help improve the accuracy (field markups) and define the events (work orders) occurring on your asset inventory. The next GIS implementation phase for public works departments is secure cloud computing, with its ability to lower costs through managed application use and data sharing. GIS is the right tool in preparing for our future.

How are you leveraging GIS to get a better grade on the next ASCE report card?

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