Government Technology

Storm Sense


May 26, 2005 By

When this winter's storm season brings rain and wind, Greensboro, N.C., will be ready.

A new software platform tying together existing IT systems, including an application ERP suite and an enterprise GIS, gives city administrators a new way to better maintain the city's storm water system, prepare for and mitigate disaster, and shorten the recovery process after a major storm.

A Matter of Infrastructure

Greensboro covers more than 113 square miles, including 1,100 miles of streets, and 2,940 miles of water and sewer mains under those streets. When a major storm rolls through, dumping rain and buffeting trees with stiff winds, the city's storm drain system is taxed to its limits.

"You can look at disaster recovery and preparedness as a cycle," said Stephen Sherman, Greensboro's GIS manager, explaining that the city is leaning on its new platform for predisaster mitigation, trying to identify the weak points in the city's infrastructure, which are subject to stress during a natural disaster, as well as the follow-up response.

A typical storm season consists of severe thunderstorms, Sherman said, citing a "micro-downburst" that hit the city with 80 mph winds a few years ago as one of the most memorable storms. Hurricanes can also be a problem, he added, though the city hasn't been hit with one of those for some time.

In the aftermath of a storm, flash flooding and wind damage present the biggest recovery challenges to the city. This is when predisaster mitigation pays off.

"We have a very robust system of preventive maintenance for our storm water features all year round, but particularly leading up to storm season," he said. "We identify storm water inlet features, like curb inlets and catch basins, that need to be cleaned out prior to storms. We also have streams running through Greensboro, and obviously you get blockages at culverts, bridge abutments and things of that nature."

Ensuring that all aspects of the city's storm water infrastructure can accept sudden large doses of water is critical. Tying the city's GIS to other citywide applications gives city administrators a simpler way to track maintenance tasks performed on various parts of the storm water infrastructure.

Integrating the Parts

City officials spent a year studying the most effective way to tie together existing IT systems -- including a Lawson ERP system, its GIS (from ESRI) and a one-call contact center for constituent services -- with the overall goal of better responses to citizen requests for various services.

To craft a better response strategy, city officials realized they needed to revise management of city assets and work orders for disparate departments. In August 2004, Greensboro awarded Datastream a contract for a software platform to manage assets and work orders across the enterprise.

The company's Datastream 7i platform allows the city to monitor how assets are used and how they perform, whether it's public works trucks fixing sewers or transportation crews removing trees from roads after a storm. As additional IT systems are plugged into the platform, city management gets access to more and more aggregated data to evaluate performance and city resource allocation.

The platform's modular design lets the city use Web services to tie its enterprise GIS to the platform, Sherman said, a task made more straightforward because the platform is built on open standards, such as Java and XML. Combining the GIS with the work order tracking system gives city departments the power to zero in on troublesome areas.

Analyzing response-time data for trends or odd patterns gives city management a better body of knowledge from which to forecast performance issues and make planning decisions.

Greensboro's Department of Transportation served as the guinea pig, he said, and the Environmental Services Department went live with the system


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