Editor’s note: Following is a guest blog from Mike Hausser, the director of asset management for the City of Cambridge in Ontario, Canada:
How do you start building a smarter city if you are a rapidly growing municipality of 125,000 with over 200,000 assets like buildings, sewer systems and roadways valued at more than $1.2 billion across 50,000 locations?
Here at the City of Cambridge, Ontario, we think we’ve got what it takes. And we have combined vision, technology and collaboration with the public and private sector to make it happen.
Today, in partnership with the Federal Government of Canada and IBM, we announced how we are using the Canadian Federal Government’s Gas Tax Funding to better manage critical city information and assets.
The Federal Gas Tax fund (GTF) is a key component of the Building Canada infrastructure plan. The plan’s intent is to strengthen Canada’s communities by providing predictable and long-term funding in support of municipal infrastructure that contributes to cleaner air, cleaner water and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
Technological advances now allow cities to be instrumented, making it easier than ever before to collect data points and use that information to make real-time decisions in areas like traffic flow, water usage, sewage flow and overall water management, We believe a smarter city goes to work for its citizens. It measures and influences more aspects of their operations. These interconnected cities allow free flow of information from one discrete system to another, which increases the efficiency of the overall infrastructure. Finite resources are optimized.
Vision and creative leadership at a municipal level are critical. For example, some cities have used the gas tax funding to repave roads. We’ll do some of that too, but we have decided to take a more innovative, forward-thinking approach that lays the foundation for a smarter city in a number of key areas:
Water: It is a precious resource which is becoming increasingly scarce worldwide. Our new water management process calculates the outdoor water use volumes by customer. Through the interconnection of several independent systems, the collective datasets allow us to analyze the volume of sewage from homes and businesses against the volume of water coming in from ground water or rainfall. Problem areas can then be quickly targeted for detailed inspection. This process is helping improve the efficiency of our sewer systems and is reducing environmental impacts.
Traffic: We want to make driving easier for citizens of Cambridge. Traffic is counted and loaded into the new system automatically alongside collision records. This helps us do safety audits to more efficiently determine the need for changes in intersection design, speed limits, traffic calming and traffic control. This information is also automatically used to classify roads to determine the severity of road defects and prioritize repairs.
Our approach to traffic management also includes sidewalks. We have started mobile inspection of sidewalks. The computer is mounted on a bike which is ridden across nearly 800 kilometres of sidewalks each summer. The system tracks what sidewalks have been inspected and safety hazards and defects are identified on a map by the operator. Defects and safety hazards that fall within certain thresholds are queued and the IBM system then creates automatic service requests to generate the appropriate work order, or job ticket, for repair crews. Progress is monitored to ensure defects are resolved within expected time frames.
Natural events that affect traffic are also managed using IBM software systems. For example, to better manage snow storms, we developed a set of response plans and templates. Resources are deployed based on the severity of the forecasted storm. These plans setup a series of work-flow controlled work orders. Each job ticket assigns work to resources in their respective routes or locations on a preliminary timeline that ranges from 24 hours to 24 days in the case of a severe storm.
Plow and salt route areas for roads and sidewalks are created for various levels of response and each area is reflected in the IBM system as a location. Based on the weather forecast, the manager in charge inputs an internal service request choosing the appropriate classification which represents the level of storm expected. The service request presents the Manager with questions that record the expected duration, nature, and extent of the forecasted storm.
The IBM system then generates the appropriate ‘package’ of work (based on the classification) with a series of job tickets each with an initial target start/end time, assignment to the appropriate manager, and appropriate routes and locations. These job tickets are currently paper-based. Our plan is to replace the current paper output with a “system-to-system” link by installing on-board computers in the plow trucks. In this scenario, the appropriate route is sent to the selected operator and the system will provide onboard navigation of an optimized route, re-optimizing on the fly to account for blocked streets.
Digital Infrastructure Management: Digital closed circuit television robot units crawl through sanitary and storm pipes to inspect structural and operational condition of pipe assets. The video and data is automatically loaded back into the system. Defects that need immediate attention generate a work order. Higher defect rates will trigger capital renewal/rehabilitation projects.
Being able to automate and more efficiently manage City services like leaf pickup, snow removal, water and traffic infrastructure gives us the ability to better service the citizens of Cambridge – today and in the future.
I believe we are living proof that a smarter city is reachable for all sizes of municipalities. With bold leadership and vision to use funding creatively, plus state-of-the-art technology and a commitment to bettering services and protecting precious resources, anything is possible.
Photo caption: A cambridge city worker uses computer system on bicycle to inspect sidewalks. The computer is mounted on a bike which is ridden across nearly 800 kilometres of sidewalks. Defects and safety hazards that fall within certain thresholds are queued and the IBM system then creates automatic service requests to generate the appropriate work order, or job ticket, for repair crews.