The application allows management to quickly identify all of the City’s public works assets in one solution. In our industry most of the infrastructure is buried, so having the confidence in the type and location of these assets is invaluable, especially in emergencies.
Newark, Delaware, Reimagines, Rethinks, and Rebuilds Public Works and Water Resources with GIS
Newark, located in New Castle County in northern Delaware, encompasses over nine square miles and has a population of more than 31,000 people. Eight years ago, the City of Newark hired Mark Neimeister, a water operations superintendent, to lead the city's GIS implementation. At the time of his hiring, assets were managed with paper and, according to Neimeister, "It was a mess to maintain." There was a handful of ArcGIS Desktop users with personal geodatabases managing a rough stormwater network and helping the planning department with some basic planning exercises.
Leadership and Vision
In 2014, led by the Public Works and Water Resources (PWWR) department, the city made the decision to invest in an Esri enterprise agreement providing access to ArcGIS Enterprise and ArcGIS Online, which allowed it to migrate from paper-based operations and implement an enterprise GIS for utilities. City administrators realized they could increase their level of service and efficiency by applying a geographic approach to city business. Within seven years, the city transitioned to an enterprise GIS, enabling the reimagining, rethinking, and rebuilding of the PWWR department.
PWWR covers a wide array of services with seven divisions, all of which were prime candidates for modernization:
- Water—Drinking water treatment and distribution
- Sewer—Wastewater collection and conveyance
- Stormwater—Stormwater and drainage
- Refuse—Curbside trash, recycling, and yard waste collection
- Engineering—Development plan review, inspections, and engineering support for city projects
- Streets—Repair and maintenance of city streets including snow and ice control
- Fleet maintenance—Maintenance of citywide vehicle fleet
Rethinking and Rebuilding Public Works with GIS
The rebuilding phase began with personal geodatabases migrated to enterprise geodatabases using Esri templates. A consultant was retained to update the utility layers with mobile work. This project covered three years, so by 2017, the features in the utility layers had been located. Brian Laws, an engineering technician, was hired to run the enterprise GIS. Following the consultant's project, summer interns were used to field verify the as-built drawings and update the asset attributes in the utility layers because the city did not have available staff. This involved a lot of work—opening catch basins and inlets, verifying the pipe diameter, confirming flow direction, and so forth. Once completed, the sanitary sewer, stormwater, and water distribution layers and geometric networks could be kept up-to-date with ArcGIS. After the data management process was completed, the rethinking of how to do the work began.
"Staff were shuffling large rolls of paper maps back and forth, and somebody said, 'Can't we just put all of these layers on a GIS map to see everything at the same time?’" said Jay Hodny, a GIS technician for the city.
Out of this idea, the Combined Utility Application was born. It was developed with ArcGIS Web AppBuilder.
It might look like a simple web mapping application, but it's easily the most utilized application amongst management, they no longer open PDFs, it is constantly updated to show changes, RTK [real-time kinematic] GPS updates locations and attributes using ArcGIS Field Maps.
The Combined Utility Application started with each of the three utility networks on a separate web map. Within the first year, the department got multiple requests to combine the networks onto a single map to support staff plan reviews and engineering drawings. It instantly became a great reference for everybody.
The next enhancement request for the application was to export a view to a PDF map to complete Miss Utility of Delmarva (a call-before-you-dig service for notifying underground facility owners) design tickets and to fulfill requests from contractors and consultants, so PWWR added a print widget. This uses a custom geoprocessing service that allows the user to select specified layouts and sizes via a template to add the city logo, disclaimer, and so forth. This is a time-saver, as these custom digital maps at specified scales can be emailed instead of requiring in-person visits to get a photocopied paper map that is probably out-of-date.
Neimeister had another idea for an enhancement to the Combined Utility Application by using ArcGIS Arcade to add hyperlink access to street view imagery from the feature pop-up window. This is very valuable, as this series of historical photos can help mobile workers find locations for assets in the field, like water valves or hydrants. It has become a popular feature, especially for utility locating and marking. Crews can see how things have changed over time, for example, when a valve has been paved over in the past.
Approximately 40 managers and mobile workers use the Combined Utility Application daily via Apple iPhones and iPads, which has tremendously improved efficiency and increased the level of service.
Another popular application is the Bulk/Yard Waste Scheduling solution. In one 18-month period, the city received over 10,000 calls for bulk waste pickup. To manage these requests was an "ugly, paper-based process," explained Hodny. Traditionally, residents would call in the request, staff would record the pickup information on a slip of paper, and that pickup information would be entered into a spreadsheet. The spreadsheet was then given to a supervisor, who would use it and the paper slips to arrange ad hoc pickup routes based on their knowledge of the local street network—a process that was not always the most efficient. PWWR staff wanted to find a better way to do business, so they applied the geographic approach. They wanted to use GIS to not only complete and improve scheduling but also to create an archive so that the process could be analyzed. The answer was a solution that integrates ArcGIS Dashboards, ArcGIS Workforce and ArcGIS Survey123.
In this single application, users can submit and edit tasks generated from pickup request calls using Survey123. These requests then become assignments in ArcGIS Workforce, and the supervisor assigns them to a worker. The refuse truck driver (worker) uses Workforce on an iPad to work through a list. The list is automatically updated to show the next closest assignment based on the driver's location. The dashboard provides real-time access to the list of pickups, the locations of the vehicles in the field, and the status of the pickup. Pickups are color coded: green = completed; red = declined. Once the driver reaches the pickup location, they start the assignment. Once the pickup is done and the assignment marked as completed it turns green in the app, and the driver moves on to the next one.
If there is something wrong with the pickup, for example, if the item was not at the specified location, the driver will decline the assignment, which turns red in the app. The driver will take a photo to document the issue. The photo is linked to the assignment point and is a useful resource for staff responding to calls asking why the item was not picked up. This eliminates the need to call the supervisor and for the supervisor to call the driver to find out why the pickup was not completed.
A chart is used to track the number of requests. This is important, as there is a daily limit to the number of pickups. This allows the users to instantly know when they need to start scheduling pickups for the next available day. Once the app had successfully replaced the paper workflow for bulk pickups, it was enhanced to also include yard waste pickups. According to Laws, replacing this manual workflow with a GIS solution "was a no-brainer."
In addition to the increased efficiencies provided by the solution, there is now an archive of completed pickups that can be analyzed. This allowed staff to identify a resident taking advantage of bulk pickups. While there is no charge for bulk pickups and no limit on the number of pickup requests, the city does need to make sure residents do not abuse the service. A driver noticed recurring requests for pickup of significant construction debris at a certain address, including at neighboring addresses. Analysis of the archive showed that indeed a resident who was a construction contractor was repeatedly requesting bulk pickups at his address and his neighbor's. The city notified him that he needed to cease this activity, and he complied.
Innovation Leads to Recognition
Newark PWWR GIS was awarded a 2022 Special Achievement in GIS (SAG) Award at the 2022 Esri User Conference for an application supporting its stormwater management area BMP inspections. Previously, inspectors used fillable PDF forms to perform their inspections in the field. These inspection results were then included in a report to the owner. This was an overly complex, manual process. Once the inspectors returned to the office, they would print the completed PDF form, open a Microsoft Word document, edit a cover letter template, have an invoice generated, download any photos taken during the inspection, and then add them to the Word document.
The GIS team used the PDF forms to create GIS feature classes, one for each of the dozen different BMP types, each with its own set of attributes to contain the inspection information. Survey123 surveys were created using the Survey123 Connect desktop app to mimic the PDF forms. Inspectors use ArcGIS Field Maps or a web map to identify and select the BMP for inspection, then a custom URL calls up Survey123 and passes along static data tied to that feature (e.g., type, county name, site name), along with the inspector's name. The inspector fills out the survey and submits it. Python scripting is used along with Microsoft Word Mail Merge to automate the entire report generation process. By the time the inspector returns to the office after clicking the Submit button on the survey, the entire report has been generated. Now the inspector only needs to review the report and email it to the owner, saving a significant amount of time. Additionally, the manager can monitor the inspectors, see all inspections, and check the status at any time.
Expanding PWWR Staff Impact on the City
The positive impact that PWWR staff are having on the city with GIS is continually expanding. In addition to the three apps highlighted in this story, they have deployed over two dozen other GIS applications across the city, some of which are available to the public.
All these applications were developed in-house and most without writing any code. PWWR GIS staff make great use of online assistance and inspiration from Esri blogs and other community resources. Internal apps are hosted in ArcGIS Enterprise, while publicly accessible apps are hosted in ArcGIS Online. PWWR GIS staff continue replacing paper-based, manual workflows to reinforce their culture of continual organizational improvement. They are also having success with creating spatial views that geoenrich nonspatial data obtained dynamically from other city databases (e.g., water meter data) and then visualizing it in ArcGIS. All this work is done with four "power users." Their work is supported by executive sponsors like the PWWR director and managers as well as the city manager.
This story is a great example of how a few GIS users, along with strong leadership, vision, and executive sponsorship, can positively impact a municipality's operations by increasing efficiency, delivering an increased level of service, modernizing outdated workflows, and innovating new solutions. It is a blueprint for how to reimagine, rethink, and rebuild an organization with GIS.