Empowering Field Crews with AM/FM

Empowering Field Crews with AM/FM

By Wayne Horner, City of Tallahassee

The City of Tallahassee Utilities Services serves more than 90,000 electric, 62,000 water and sewer, 54,000 solid waste and 16,000 natural gas customers. In 1985 Hurricane Kate came through Tallahassee and devastated several sections of town. The city`s Electric Dept. estimated system damage to be approximately $900,000. When the reconstruction was complete, the cost totaled more than $2.9 million. This underestimation was primarily due to the lack of adequate system maps and facility inventory information. In 1988 the Electric Dept. began investigation of AM/FM/GIS technology.

The City of Tallahassee, Leon County and the Leon County Property Appraiser formed an Interlocal Agreement in 1989 to share costs in the development of a common GIS. A central GIS group was formed to develop the base map so the various interlocal participants could begin data conversion and develop their respective GIS data sets and applications.

In 1990 the Electric Dept. had limited data to load into the GIS. The existing paper maps for overhead and underground facilities were drawn on parcel maps, which were sometimes not to scale and out of date. Index cards for transformers and other electric facilities had no coordinate location information to tie them spatially to the GIS. Most of the available information was unsuitable for classic data conversion methods such as digitizing or scanning. These circumstances led us to rethink the data development of the GIS project and elect to proceed with a field inventory, which is estimated to require about two years of field work with an outside vendor at a cost of more than $1 million.

One thing that could be done in the short term was to digitize the single line drawings (SLD) into the GIS and begin using the GIS as a map production system to maintain and print map books for the service vehicles.

We developed a SLD graphic and data maintenance tool to edit and update the SLD data in the GIS. The overhead facility drawings were entered into the GIS by eyeballing the line work as close as possible to base map features. This was not spatially accurate, but would give us GIS map data that was at least as accurate as the existing paper maps. The resulting data would display the SLD features on the correct side of the street and display circuit types. This new SLD data would not only replace the old map books in the vehicles, it would also help familiarize our users with GIS and its capabilities. By adding the SLD information to the database, we could begin using the GIS immediately and have some data to begin application development and testing.

Utility Enterprise Database and GIS Requirements

One of the main requirements of the Utility Enterprise Database (UEDB) is to provide field and service personnel with current facility and electric system information. This will enhance customer service and restoration response, and provide for cost-effective facilities maintenance.

We believe the solution to building a successful UEDB requires four basic components.

1. Seamless all-relational GIS database

2. GIS maintenance tool

3. Work order management system (WOMS)

4. Mobile data collection tool

In a non-digital mapping environment there is a problem with duplication of data sets. We have chosen to develop a single UEDB on an all-relational seamless model. A single UEDB is required to eliminate the problems of the proliferation of duplicate data sets. All facility information is maintained through a single user interface. By using a single all-relational system, we have addressed the issues of data integrity and the real location of the most current data, and helped ensure user confidence in the database. Additionally, we have multi-user real-time concurrent access to information for all utilities on the same system.

The following problems were encountered in development of the GIS database:

Sufficient qualified staff

Training and skills

Employee turnover

Division of labor

Job classification in public sectors

Pet projects overriding required database maintenance

It has become clear that significant time and money can be saved by using external GIS application development resources. We have successfully used contract application developers to help design and implement the initial system. As users become accustomed to the capabilities and request changes and enhancements, we can accommodate them with internal resources. This has allowed users with minimal training to use the GIS and get a jump on the learning curve.

Utility Enterprise Database Facility Maintenance Tool

Following development of the basic UEDB architecture, a simple, easy-to-use, data maintenance tool was needed. At a high level, this tool must be able to enter, update and manipulate any utility facility and related attribute information. The screen navigation and database maintenance tools should be intuitive, and personnel must be able to use the system with a minimum of training. The maintenance tool should have rules-based processing to allow clear definition of data requirements such as placement, connectivity, required values and other validity checks. By using the rules-based approach, the system can be set up for non-skilled operators to assist in data maintenance with minimum intervention of supervisors.

We have implemented the first application for UEDB data maintenance, an electric facilities management (EFM) tool to input, change and maintain GIS information in the office environment. This tool is used by engineers, data collection crews, quality assurance/control and other supervisory personnel. Maintenance tools for water, sewer, gas and other utilities are under development and will be brought on line in 1997.

Work Order Management System

The WOMS is the logical place to organize the business processes needed to drive data entry and maintenance of the GIS. At the highest level, it must ensure changes made to any facilities are recorded in the GIS database as quickly as possible. Additionally, it should track and record work activities and related customer information (such as, customer cut-ons/cut-offs, outages, trouble calls, restoration, new construction, and day-to-day facility maintenance).

To achieve a fully integrated UEDB, the WOMS will be integrated to other management information systems like GIS, customer information system, financial management system, personnel and payroll, and purchasing and inventory. As this integration will take some time to complete (estimated 1998 implementation), we have had to develop an interim solution for data collection. The task tracking system (TTS) is an interim work tracking system to be used until a complete WOMS is in place. To allow a smooth integration of EFM and the mobile data collection system (MDCS), the TTS is being developed to simply track what goes on in the field and ensure changes to facilities are put back into the GIS database the same day. It will be used by engineers, service and construction crews, and management within each of the six operating utilities (water, sewer, gas, electric, storm water management and solid waste). The system will increase efficiency by identification of performance problems and provide management with greater reporting capabilities.

With TTS in place, WOMS development can continue while data collection and GIS database maintenance begins. We believe it will be a smooth transition to integrate MDCS and Task Tracking data into final GIS/WOMS by using Oracle and other standard development tools in our current development efforts.

Mobile Data Collection System

The MDCS is a set of applications that runs on a rugged pen-based microcomputer. The applications are used to collect and maintain data on all electric facilities and water and sewer infrastructure. The pen computer system is designed to be used in the field. Since that is where work is accomplished, we feel that is where work management tracking and facility management should begin.

Given the base map situation and existing facilities data, we chose to develop a MDCS for data collection and maintenance. The tool will also be used in the quality control process to verify field inventory data that will be collected by contractors and internal staff. Internal users of the MDCS will be the engineers, service crews, data collection crews, supervisors, field facility locators, inspection personnel and construction crews.

With a UEDB populated with current facility and customer information, the MDCS becomes an extension of the UEDB to bring field crews access to data that was previously unavailable. We believe this will have the most significant impact on personnel productivity and customer response times–plus ensure an accurate, up-to-date UEDB.

The MDCS has an integrated real-time sub-meter (30 to 40 cm accuracy) differential global positioning system (DGPS) for spatial positioning of facilities. While you have a map displayed on the screen, there is a floating dot to show your current position in real time. The DGPS updates your location every second, enabling a constant real-time global positioning system (GPS) fix for any facility you wish to map.

In Tallahassee, there is relatively dense tree coverage throughout the community. All GPS receivers experience problems obtaining accurate positional fixes when trees obscure the line of sight between the receiver and the GPS satellites. We developed a laser range finder interface to position facilities under heavy tree cover and also help in the urban canyons of the downtown areas. The user stands in an open area to get an accurate DGPS fix. This establishes an origin to begin using the laser. The laser range finder is pointed at a facility such as a pole and the trigger is pulled. The application takes the angle and distance information from the laser and combines it with the DGPS fix. This calculation places the pole on the base map in the correct location within one second.

The MDCS has the capability to perform unattended on facility and work order information. This will ensure that all users have the latest information possible. The pen units are docked every afternoon, and new data from the field is uploaded to the UEDB. New data from the UEDB is also downloaded at night, back to the MDCS, so each user has the most current facility and customer data. Data formats currently supported are .dxf, . dwg, .tif, .grd, .pic, GINA,

Oracle and Base IV.

During the pilot data collection effort, we were collecting overhead data at a rate of over a mile per day. This included positioning and attribute collection for overhead primary and secondary in both urban and rural areas. The end user acceptance has been enthusiastic and most field personnel are eager to get the MDCS units installed in their vehicles.


With the advent of affordable real-time DGPS and laser range-finding equipment and the development of the MDCS, the Utility Services Dept. will be able to effectively maintain and support the UEDB. Current and accurate information, that is readily available for the field service personnel, will have the greatest impact in the areas of UEDB maintenance and provide enhanced customer service.

Author Bio

Wayne Horner joined the City of Tallahassee Electric Department in 1988. He is responsible for all aspects of GIS implementation and integration with existing information systems for the City of Tallahassee.

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The City of Tallahassee provides GIS application development and support for electric, water, sewer, gas, stormwater management and solid waste operations.

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During Tallahassee`s pilot data collection effort, overhead data was collected at a rate of more than a mile a day.

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The Clarion Energy Content Team is made up of editors from various publications, including POWERGRID International, Power Engineering, Renewable Energy World, Hydro Review, Smart Energy International, and Power Engineering International. Contact the content lead for this publication at Jennifer.Runyon@ClarionEvents.com.

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