Smartphone applications and social media

Whether through Apple Inc.'s iPhone or iPad; Research In Motion Ltd.'s BlackBerry; or Google's Android operating system, you're communicating with residents and each other anytime, anywhere.

Connecticut's South Windsor Public Works was trying to find an inexpensive and easy way to track assets in real time and enter condition data into the city's geographic information system (GIS) from the field. Director Michael Gantick, PE, and Information Technology Director Scott Roberts, GISP, decided the BlackBerry was the most flexible device that was least likely to intimidate employees.

Their marriage of the two technologies is saving time and money on street sweeping, catch-basin cleaning, manhole inspection, and zoning enforcement. The department loans devices to service contractors, such as snow-plowing companies, who in turn send drivers into the field with the unit so public works can confirm routes are followed properly.

Columbus, Ohio, and Chicago are texting residents the night before their streets are swept ( to remind them to move their cars.

Vendors are getting in on the action as well.

Customers of asset management software provider Cartegraph Systems Inc. use YourGov so iPhone owners can report and track (nonemergency) requests.

Want to fuse some HDPE pipe in the field? Download McElroy Manufacturing's “pressure calculator” to your Apple Inc. device of choice.

But Apple's iPad has the greatest potential for operations and maintenance, if only because it's easier to make out what's on a 9.7-inch screen than on the typical smartphone's 3.5-inch screen.

San Andreas (Calif.) District Manager Steve Schimp is testing an Interactive Operations Manual (IOM), developed by ECO:LOGIC Engineering-Stantec, that provide provides access to every single document — ph photos, schematics, Web links, and maintenance schedules — for the 31-mgd Nor-Cal wastewater treatment plant.

For example, operators add notes or photographs describing the tools needed to adjust a valve or the finicky details of a critical piece of equipment. “This is just what we needed,” Schimp reports. “If we discover that a piece of equipment needs an oil change every two months instead of four, we can log that here and turn it into a work order.”

Which brings us to nonstop networking, which wouldn't be possible without the hardware described above.

About a year ago — roughly an eon in technology time — the Public Technology Institute found that Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube were the social media of choice for local governments.

With Twitter's immediacy and limited space for users to get straight to the point, public agencies are “tweeting” updates on road closures, upcoming construction, weather, and events. Residents even “tweet” their departments to call attention to local issues and concerns.

The institute didn't repeat the survey this year. But it did find that most cities and counties aren't capturing information, such as number of followers or most-viewed videos, that could help in deciding which medium to use depending on the communication goal.

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To see how Eco:Logic-Stantec's iPad Interactive Operations Manual application works, click here.