I think everyone should be using Survey123 because it's super helpful to gain information quickly and accurately. We use Survey123 for a lot of different things now and it really demonstrates the power of GIS.
Pennsylvania Municipality Transforms Paper-Based Workflow for Stormwater Inspections with Digital Data-Gathering Solution
The College Township GIS team aimed to transform its paper-based workflow for conducting stormwater inspections and reporting for its stormwater management program.
The new digital workflow with ArcGIS Survey123 improved efficiency in field data collection, allowed for required reports to be sent digitally, and decreased inspection times from several months to just a few weeks.
The Chesapeake Bay watershed, the largest estuary in the nation, spans 64,000 square miles across several states and is home to more than 18 million people and 3,600 species of plants and animals. Pollution and debris from cities and farms are carried directly into the bay, negatively impacting water quality and aquatic life. To protect this treasured resource, governors from six states and the mayor of Washington, DC, signed the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement to help create a healthy watershed.
One of the participating states is Pennsylvania. As it renews efforts to clean the state's waterways and the Chesapeake Bay, one municipality in Centre County strives to prevent pollution via its stormwater management program. Staff conduct stormwater inspections to proactively identify areas that can potentially discharge pollutants—point source pollution—that feed into the bay. This enables the municipality to track runoff water from rainstorms and winter snowmelt to determine where pollution enters the watershed.
Historically, College Township collected and reported on its stormwater infrastructure using paper and pen, a time-consuming process that led to many inaccuracies in the data. To enable faster data collection and better navigation in the field, the College Township geographic information system (GIS) team decided to deploy ArcGIS Survey123, digitally transforming the team's workflow and improving reporting to external agencies.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the state agency responsible for protecting and preserving the land, air, water, and public health, ensures that cities and townships adhere to municipal separate storm sewer system (MS4) permit obligations. These obligations ensure that communities have effective stormwater management plans to help minimize stormwater's adverse impacts on water resources. For College Township, preserving its waterways is vital to ensuring the region's longevity. The stormwater inspection process for identifying point source pollution was previously a paper-based workflow.
According to Shane Adams, GIS specialist for College Township, the municipality's original MS4 reporting process consisted of paper topographic maps with points drawn on them, which caused challenges in the field. Stormwater inspections are done in the spring—with a lot of understory growth, the specific outfall locations were hard to find. Adams wanted a new solution that would provide more accuracy.
"I knew that from past experiences . . . that I was going to want to find these outfalls a lot easier than just relying on paper maps that [made it look like] it was within like 40 feet of this area," says Adams. "Looking at a paper map is pretty awesome, but when you're referring to really small points relative to those topographic maps, it helps to have an interactive mapping application with you."
He adds, "So what I wanted to do was take those paper-based outfall inspection forms and integrate them into our GIS program. I just wanted to make this more efficient and be able to track [locations] a lot easier."
College Township has 140 outfalls to inspect, and it aims to inspect 30–40 percent of these annually. Adams is responsible for conducting inspections in the field, which must be done after a 72-hour dry period following a wet weather event. Depending on the weather, this time-sensitive process took about two months for all outfalls. Following seasonal inspections, College Township would need to file a yearly report to DEP based on the data collected. Adams sought a method to reduce data collection and reporting time.
"Previously, we weren't really integrating stormwater inspections into our GIS data. It was just like, 'Here's where the outfall is,' and there was very limited attribute information to those outfalls," says Adams.
Adams searched for a new solution to boost inspection efficiency and selected ArcGIS Survey123. ArcGIS Survey123 is a location-aware, form centric solution for collecting data and creating simple or complex smart forms. Adams had no previous experience with Survey123 but liked the fact that after collecting information in the field, he could generate PDF reports of survey results within the Survey123 website. Also, College Township was already using ArcGIS Online, Esri's web-based mapping software, which got Adams interested in other Esri solutions.
"ArcGIS Online . . . is what got me interested in sharing GIS and looking at those different applications that Esri offers, [especially because it's] easy to start to integrate them," says Adams.
Adams began by adding digital mapping locations into Survey123, and he says the first year was largely trial and error to see how using the solution worked for outfall inspections. For reporting, he used the advanced form template in Survey123 Connect, which uses XLSForm to aid in survey design. He then re-created the required DEP inspection form, matching the questions' sequence and attaching it to College Township's outfall locations.
Adams read ArcGIS blog articles and watched many video tutorials that explored more in-depth ways to use Survey123, including the report functions and custom coding that Adams used to attach the form to each location. He says it is very simple to learn because of the intuitive design of Survey123.
Currently, staff aim to do inspections in one to two weeks, Adams says. He collects data on each outfall needing inspection by using the digital form in the Survey123 mobile app. All PDF reports are generated at one time and passed to the township's stormwater engineer for review. Once completed, the paperwork is ready to send to DEP for MS4 requirements when needed.
Since deploying Survey123, College Township has seen significant benefits, such as a digital workflow transformation and improved efficiency in data collection. The new digital workflow has decreased inspection times from several months to just a few weeks. Adams says this is very helpful because it frees up more time for him to work in other areas, increasing efficiency across the board.
According to Adams, it takes five minutes to process input from 40–50 outfall locations, and annual reports are submitted digitally. The stormwater engineer is also able to review the reports quickly and digitally sign forms.
"Rather than doing it once, every time I come back to the office, I do it all in one shot just so I keep track of the forms that I've generated. In the end, it makes my job easier, but it also makes [the engineer's] job easier," says Adams. "He's able to pull them up quickly if he has someone call about a specific location."
The DEP inspector can now scan a QR Code on each form to view the township's interactive stormwater map—an additional benefit of digital reports. The map shows the specific outfall point that correlates with a form, a photo, the location, and the storm sewer shed it empties. The interactive map is also shared with the public, letting residents see stormwater assets and know when they have been cleaned out or were last inspected.
"Being able to point someone to a tactile sort of interactive map, I think, really helps in explaining why and how water flows within a built system. People can see and track those changes over time and see what's around them," says Adams.
The stormwater system map allows College Township staff to understand a specific location in case of an incident, such as a hydraulic line break or an oil spill, and determine if it has rained and where the water will most likely go. Adams says this has helped staff report situations and keep track of potential pollution if it comes out of an outfall.
"I could share this information easily with our planner and with our stormwater engineer because they have an ArcGIS Online login and can see that [map] and keep track of those inspections. So it's just great for sharing, and people that are willing to use it really benefit a lot from it," says Adams.
The digital components of this new solution have improved DEP reporting and helped while Adams is in the field. Integrating outfall locations into Survey123 and using the Inbox function allows Adams to see all the specific points in the field and more easily navigate to them, using his phone or tablet. Now, he can get within five feet of an area to easily locate an outfall. Adams can click the specific outfall on the map, which brings up the inspection form, and then fill out the report and attach a photo.
"In the end, we can take all of those inspections—40 or so a year—and fit that into a one-week time frame, and then completely avoid all written forms and inspection papers," says Adams. "The form reporting that Survey123 does allows me to do all my outfall reports within like 10 minutes. So that saves us a lot of time and a lot of handwritten, paper [forms to file]."
As a result of the project's success, officials at College Township plan on using Survey123 in many ways, including gathering community feedback for sidewalk plans and road maintenance and tracking fire hydrant maintenance. The success has also led College Township to share the workflow with organizations in Pennsylvania as well as other states. Adams says this tool is the best way for other towns and local agencies to demonstrate the power of GIS.
"GIS doesn't have to be just quietly making maps for people when they request them of you. If you have any sort of GIS capability, Survey123 is definitely accessible to you," says Adams. "It shows what GIS is capable of and [can help you] expand your horizons in terms of how you utilize GIS."