Case Study: Storm Management with PubWorks
Long Branch, NJ
There’s no way to sugarcoat it: Winter 2014-15 was a headache for Buzz Baldanza of Long Branch, N.J. As an administrative analyst for the city’s Public Works Department, Baldanza grappled with storms that dropped more than four feet of snow in his coastal city, but worse than the snow were the subsequent freeze-thaw cycles that broke the streets all to pieces.
Fortunately, Baldanza’s department had equipped itself with PubWorks asset management software, and he was able to track every pothole repair and know exactly how many man-hours and how much material each individual job required. Better yet, he entered all that data into PubWorks swiftly and easily.
“I just did about 26 pothole requests in about 26 minutes or so,” Baldanza said on a busy day in mid-March. With the city’s old paper-and-pencil system, it would have taken hours to scribble down the information and he still couldn’t have quantified the overall workload.
“PubWorks gave us a much better understanding of our service needs,” he said. “To give you an idea, I’ve had probably 116 potholes within the past four working days and we’re still not done yet.”
The task of fixing those potholes hasn’t changed — and unfortunately PubWorks cannot perform the actual repairs — but the software has made Baldanza’s life easier by providing both a thorough grasp of the department’s overall workflow and an accurate, detailed snapshot of each individual task, including GIS location, equipment, man-hours, materials and costs.
Having that information at his fingertips enables Baldanza to put the manpower and materials where they’re most needed. He can also report every detail to his superiors.
This water-tight record-keeping proved especially handy in October 2012 when Hurricane Sandy walloped the East Coast and turned Long Branch into a federal disaster area. The massive cleanup effort still isn’t finished — there’s still more than a mile of boardwalk to replace — but Baldanza has been able to thoroughly report all disaster cleanup and repair efforts to the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) with just a few mouse clicks in PubWorks.
“During Sandy, we entered all the individuals and equipment we were using, along with the FEMA scheduled rates,” he said. “Once that was in, each day as they went out to do work in the city, collecting debris or whatever, we’d track the trucks and equipment as it went out. We did that on a daily basis.”
Hamilton County, OH
Six hundred miles west in the Cincinnati suburbs, this year served up a fairly normal winter, but streets crews were still feeling the effects of last year’s heavy winter — in the form of a salt shortage. Eric Beck of the Hamilton County Public Works Department said PubWorks enabled him to track — with a mouse click — exactly how much salt he had to work with.
“The biggest thing for me as a manager is PubWorks gives me an accurate total of our salt on hand,” Beck said. “Previously it was a drive out to each dome to see how much is there.”
When it snows in Hamilton County, Beck often hears from the media right away. It’s a hilly area with curvy roads and numerous bridges, so snow causes traffic problems and the department is held accountable for keeping the roads safe. PubWorks enables Beck to answer reporters’ questions precisely and immediately.
“The media are the ones asking the most questions — how much salt we used and how many man-hours,” Beck said. “There’s an expectation on the part of the public that when it snows here, we need to take care of things.”
PubWorks also tracks everything else — who is working where, how far a given truck has traveled, when a repair was completed, and how much it all cost. As a manager with 160 employees, 1,850 lane miles and 400-plus bridges, Beck appreciates having an up-to-date cost accounting of everything that’s happening.
Hamilton County just purchased PubWorks in December 2014, but already Beck can see new efficiencies. Much less time is spent on data entry, and far fewer mistakes are made.
“The biggest obstacle for us is making the transition from our older system,” Beck said. “I’m excited to see where we will be in another six months.”
Miami Township, OH
In Miami Township, Ohio, Technical Assistant Adrianne Bell also experienced the salt shortage this winter. Through PubWorks, however, Bell knew exactly how many road-miles the department could treat without exhausting its reserves. The township removed certain side streets from its salting routes, and carefully rationed the resource.
“We had to change the way we were doing things,” Bell said of the rationing program. “But it looks, weather-wise, like we’ve come through and we still have a couple tons left.”
That’s not all PubWorks has done for the small municipality. Bell said the township is experiencing a rash of new development, and heavy trucks hauling construction materials were using one of their roads as a shortcut. When PubWorks revealed the abnormal amounts of time and material required to maintain that rural, two-lane road, the township acted to limit heavy truck traffic on the route and save taxpayer dollars.
“We’ve been able to become accountable for information we didn’t even have before,” Bell said. “We have this consultant in here this week, auditing the efficiency of our department. Everything he’s asked me for I’ve been able to pull out of PubWorks. He’s been amazed by it.”
A PubWorks user since December 2006, Bell appreciates PubWorks’ customer service. Whenever she has a question, “I always hear back immediately.” Perhaps most importantly, PubWorks gives her a solid grasp of her department’s work.
“Instead of having 10 or 12 Excel spreadsheets tracking different things, (PubWorks) brings it all together at once,” she said.
Boulder County, CO
Ted Plank, road supervisor for the Boulder County Transportation Department in Colorado, said PubWorks “has changed the way we do business. It makes us better educated and better informed as to what it’ll take to make something happen.”
Boulder County ranges from 4,700 feet of elevation on Colorado’s eastern plains to the Continental Divide at over 12,000 feet. Plank sees wide variations in climate and terrain on his 685-mile road network, which includes everything from four-lane highways to rocky, high-clearance Jeep trails.
When Plank estimates the cost of a given project, PubWorks gives him a complete history of all the past comparable jobs so he knows his estimate will be dead-on. He also can spot when costs rise in certain areas, so he can drill down into the numbers to find out why. Mining the PubWorks data has unearthed some gratifying results too.
“We are efficient,” Plank said confidently. “We compare our unit costs to the unit costs we receive on private-sector project bid documents. We can compare apples to apples and see that our costs are lower. For that reason, we can make the decision to do something in-house because we can do it cheaper.”
And that means savings for the taxpayer.
Plank has been using PubWorks for 15 years. He was first impressed by the affordability and user-friendliness of the software. “There were two or three competitors out there, but their software, aside from being expensive, was very difficult to use.”
Since then, PubWorks has not only provided the high-quality cost accounting the county originally sought, but has helped immeasurably with unanticipated crises. Consider the 2013 floods that destroyed homes, roads and bridges along Colorado’s northern Front Range. “Our crews worked seven days a week for the first eight weeks after the flood” to clear debris, rebuild roads and restore access to people’s homes, he said. All of that work was recorded in PubWorks and submitted to FEMA for reimbursement.
“All the main components of PubWorks are exactly what FEMA looks for,” he said. Plank also submits periodic air-quality reports to the state with the department’s vehicle-miles traveled and all the materials they apply to the roads. “PubWorks been a real life-saver in terms of generating that information,” he added.
Benton County, AR
Trevor Messbarger of Benton County, Arkansas, doesn’t know how he would have kept track of the 300-plus projects that he began as a result of the 2013 floods that struck his area. Bridges and sections of road were washed downstream when 10-12 inches of rain fell in two catastrophic days. But by giving all of those projects a particular code in PubWorks, he could track all flood-related repairs and, exactly as Boulder County did and apply to FEMA for reimbursement.
“This flood was unreal,” Messbarger recalled. “If we didn’t have this system to organize it … I don’t know. I would have hated to see it.”
Even when the weather is manageable, PubWorks performs for the Benton County Road Department by keeping records of all departmental activity. Messbarger uses the software to prepare regular reports for the state about maintenance and repairs to the county’s various bridges. He also uses PubWorks to respond to the media.
“If they want to see records,” he said, “I’ve got documentation for everything.”
Messbarger knows that he’s only scratched the surface of PubWorks’ capabilities, so he’s excited to see what it can do down the road.
“It’s a complete record-keeping system that would revolutionize any department,” he said. “The possibilities are really endless.”