Social Media in Public Works 101 — Mobile Apps (& iPads)
Over the summer, Jim McLaughlin, operations manager for the City of Eugene (Ore.) Public Works Department, showed me several mobile applications he has integrated into his operations to assist with inspections and management of assets. All of their applications have been developed in-house by an IT project team managed within the public works department. And all of the applications are "IOS" set to run on an iPad.
Three helpful PW apps
He explained how his vactor crew uses one of the programs to help guide them to structures that need cleaning and then documents their inlet and catch basin maintenance operations. As they drive, they can view a map on the mobile device that displays their location as well as the location of storm drains in the area. If a basin needs to be cleaned, it shows up red. After they have stopped and cleaned the basin, they can enter their activity into the app to indicate maintenance has been done, and the drainage structure on the map will then turn to green.
McLaughlin's team also developed a Mobile RFS (request for service) application to help crews and supervisors send requests, set up work orders, and track their progress. The person setting up the work request is prompted for a job code and has the option to take a photo and capture the location of the issue. The location can also be manually entered. All requests go into a bucket list that can be viewed through the program. Only a supervisor can convert the request to an actual work order. If additional problems are found while the crew is completing a task, they can be directed through the application to a supervisor for follow up. At this time, it is not accessible to the public and is not used for critical service requests.
Finally, McLaughlin has also arranged for the development of a mobile app to be used to inspect ADA compliance of sidewalks. This "Ramp Inspector" displays all sidewalk ramps in the city and allows the user to add new ones as needed. A screen shot of the app can be seen in the image. Each square on the map designates a ramp and contains data including the ramp type, intersection type, crossing direction, and the latitude and longitude of the ramp. Users can also include a photo of the site.
The argument for iPads
One of the issues we discussed was security and the hesitation of some agencies to assign iPads to their employees and allow them the use of this type of technology. If you work for this type of agency, you might want to try using McLaughlin's comment regarding his decision to give his staff tablets: "I trust them with a $400,000 truck so I can trust them with a $300 piece of equipment." His reasoning can be extended even further when you add in the other responsibilities we entrust our public works staff to take on. We trust them to manage and treat our drinking water, to ensure the water we discharge to the environment has been cleaned and is safe, and to keep our roadways safe for us to drive on. So why would we restrict them from using a relatively low-cost piece of equipment that saves them time and allows them to better perform their more critical duties?
If you're interested in checking out some industry-related apps, Public Works has collected a list of those currently available here (the list is a work in progress). And if you would like to contact McLaughlin for more information about his operations and use of mobile apps, email him at Jim.T.McLaughlin@ci.eugene.or.us.