September 18, 2013 By Brian Heaton
Technology won’t stop the fury of Mother Nature, but it’s helping officials in Chesterfield County, Va., keep a closer eye on the drainage repairs and stormwater reports needed in her wake.
The county’s Environmental Engineering Department is using a new Web application called SWIFT — Storm Water Information Tracker. The Web-based application integrates directly with a document management system, providing quick access to engineering documents for evaluating repairs.
In addition, SWIFT generates inspection notices to ensure county stormwater facilities are inspected according to state and federal regulations. It also has automated various tasks for field workers and uses GIS to assess assignment locations and topography, leading to better project management and fuel savings.
Launched on March 21 and built entirely by county developers, SWIFT replaced two separate database systems. One focused on stormwater maintenance for projects such as storm drains, while the other was used to track the facility inspections where stormwater is collected or runs off, such as structures and ponds. Now both are accessible through the same application.
According to Tara Baldwin, information architect with Chesterfield County Information Systems Technology, prior to SWIFT coming online, field crews would fill out paper reports and hand them off to an administrative person to re-key into the appropriate system. That’s no longer the case, as field workers now have the ability to enter their own reports directly into SWIFT.
“This system really poised the Environmental Engineering Department to be better prepared for the new stormwater regulations,” Baldwin said. “The Virginia Stormwater Management Program is coming down on July 1, 2014 [and] there are additional regulations coming in 2017 ... so this system was the first step for Environmental Engineering to be better equipped to comply.”
SWIFT took almost two years to build. According to Nancy Tickle, the county’s enterprise architecture manager, developers worked the project “in a part-time way,” meeting with the Environmental Engineering Department on a monthly basis so they could review the developers’ progress. Tickle said her team would have completed the project faster, but due to simultaneous priorities, the county couldn’t devote more than one full-time staff member to working on SWIFT at any given time.
Tickle didn’t have the actual cost of SWIFT available, but said the county operated within a budget for its development. In addition to staff time spent on the project, two virtual servers were also purchased to support the system and its related database.
Once SWIFT was ready to launch, the county deployed it using a light switch approach as opposed to a phase-in period. Tickle said because developers worked so closely with the Environmental Engineering Department throughout the creation process, it wasn’t necessary to roll SWIFT out slowly.
SWIFT won a 2013 Governor's Technology Award in Virginia in the category of "Innovative Use of Technology in Local Government." But despite its early success, some early enhancements have been identified for SWIFT in the months to come. Chief among them is making SWIFT mobile.
Right now, field workers have to access SWIFT at the office. In the future, they may be able to access the system directly from a mobile device. Tickle explained that the creative team initially discussed going mobile, but the idea was tabled due to further process changes that would be needed from the Environmental Engineering Department.
“The highest priority now is that SWIFT is available for the department to centralize their MS4 permitting processes,” Baldwin said, referencing the municipal separate storm sewer permits required by the federal government. “Our plans are to leverage the investment in SWIFT and expand it to able to have a centralized approach.”