asset management

Not only did FAU host the ASCE southeast regional competition in March, but I have had a big deadline – my next book is due the end of this month to the publisher.  That has taken a lot of time, and I have had several issues divert my attention at critical junctures.  Fortunately the book is nearly complete.  I should meet the deadline.  This book should be topical.  It is about infrastructure management.  JRoss is the published and with a little luck it will be out in time for the holiday sin 2017.  Very good stuff.  The first part of the book focuses on the benefits=of infrastructure tot eh economy.  They are intrinsically lined although there is an interesting research project needed to study how much infrastructure creates economic growth and how much growth requires more investments.  Is there a point of diminishing returns.  Paul Krugman may want to weigh in as I did quote him a couple times.  Then the local systems are discussed – what can happen, maintenance needs etc.  Water, sewer, stormwater roads are featured. Lots of pictures and some means to autopsy the issues.  The rest of the book looks are how to develop a system to manage the assets, value them, evaluate condition and fund improvements.  Work order are really important for causal factors.  What fails, and how often.  I think we can predict the problems.  My initial analysis, included in the book says we can with limited data.  Going back to those Bayesian roots.  Another project I would like to look at.  Finding the next Flint is a third project.  So many ideas, so little time (and no money to get support).  The solutions will involve leadership, so I did insert some future risks and past “what could possible go wrong” issues.  Sorry Flint, you made the cut, but so did Alamosa, Walkerton, midwestern power companies, and my friends in St. Pete.  But instructively I hope.  The book is aimed at professionals, but a student teaching guide will be developed this summer for use in the classroom.  Should be fun.  700+ references. And I could add so much more, but I think it will diminish the usefulness.  No doubt it will make the best seller list – looking forward to my name on the NY Times best seller list.  LOL.   Or at least sell enough copies to make JRoss interested in another book.  But seriously it should prove interesting.



The reliability of the assets within the area of interest starts with the design process in the asset management plan. Decision-making dictates how the assets will be maintained and effective means to assure the maximum return on investments. Through condition assessment, the probability of failure can be estimated. Assets can also fail due to a growing area that may contribute to exceeding its maximum capacity. Operation and maintenance of the assets are important in reassuring a longer life span as well as getting the most out of the money to be spent. Prioritizing the assets by a defined system will allow for the community to see what areas are most susceptible to vulnerability/failure, which assets need the most attention due to their condition, and where the critical assets are located in relation to major public areas (hospitals, schools, etc.) with a high population.

So what happens when conditions change?  Let’s say sea levels are rising and your land is low.  What would the potential costs be to address this?  Better yet, what happens if it rains? We looked at one south Florida community and the flood stage for each based on 3 storm events: the 1:10 used by FDOT (Assumes 2.75 inches in 24 hours), the Florida Building Code event that includes a 5 in in one hour event (7 in in 24 hrs), and the 3 day 25 year event (9.5-11 inches).

Of no surprise is that the flooding increases as rainfall increases.  Subsequent runs assumed revisions based on sea level rise. The current condition, 1, 2 and 3 ft sea level rise scenarios were run at the 99 percentile groundwater and tidal dates and levels.  Tables 2-5 depict the flood stage results for each scenarios.  The final task was designed to involve the development of scenarios whereby a toolbox options are utilized to address flooding in the community.  Scenarios were to be developed to identify vulnerabilities and cost effectiveness as discussed previously.

The modeling results were then evaluated based of the accompanying infrastructure that is typically associated with same.  A summary of the timelines and expected risk reductions were noted in the tables associated with storm and SLR scenarios.  This task was to create the costs for the recommended improvements and a schedule for upgrading infrastructure will be developed in conjunction with staff.  Two issues arise.  First, the community needs to define which event they are planning to address and the timelines as the costs vary form an initial need of $30 million to over $300 million long-term.  Figure 1 shows how these costs rise with respect to time.  The long-term needs of $5 million per 100 acres matches with a prior effort in Palm Beach County.

SLR costs

Figure 1  Summary of Costs over the 3 ft of potential sea level Rise by 2011, under the 3 storm planning concepts.


“Or is running a local government like s business killing it?”

I had an interesting conversation at a conference recently.  The people I was talking to were advanced in their careers and the discussion moved toward the outlook on management in public settings. Once upon a time, most public works and utility managers were civil engineers, but often they were criticized because they were focused on the engineering aspects as opposed to the people aspects of the community.  Their focus was public health and making sure things operated correctly.  Most did whatever was needed to accomplish that.

This led to schools of public administration, which actually started educating some of those same engineers about management of large public organizations, organizational theory, human resource, accounting and planning  I did all that myself at UNC-Chapel Hill.  The goal was to understand finances, people, community outreach, the need to engage citizens and as well as public service.  The outcomes were providing good service.  That however tends to cost a little more than operations although there are opportunities to be a bit entrepreneurial.

So back to the people in the conversation.  They noted that sometime in the 1980s or early 1990s the MPAs were being replaced by MBAs as politicians were focusing on operating “like a business.”  Looking at the MBAs out there, the comment was that business schools do not focus on service, but profits to shareholders, and the training is to cut unproductive pieces that detract from the bottom line.   Hence investments do not get made if the payback is not immediate.  Service is not a priority unless it helps the bottom line.  In a monopoly (like a local government), there are no other option, so service becomes a lessor priority.

So it brought up an interesting, but unanswerable question for now: has the move to more business trained people in government created some of the ills we see?  The discussion included the following questions/observations (summarized here):

  1. Many water and sewer utilities are putting a lot of time and effort into customer service and outreach now after years of criticism for failing to communicate with customers. That appears symptomatic of the monopoly business model.
  2. Our investments in infrastructure decreased significantly after 1980, and many business people focus on payback – so if the investment does not payback quickly, they do not pursue them. How does that impact infrastructure investments which rarely pay back quickly (Note that I have heard this argument from several utility directors with business backgrounds in very recent years, so the comments are not unfounded).  It does beg the questions of whether the business focus compounds our current infrastructure problems.
  3. Likewise maintenance often gets cut as budgets are matched to revenues as opposed to revenues matched to costs, another business principle. Run to failure is a business model, not a public sector model. Utilities can increase rates and we note that phones, cable television, and computer access have all increased in costs at a far faster rate that water and sewer utilities.

Interestingly though was the one business piece that was missing:  Marketing the value of the product (which is different than customer service).  Marketing water seems foreign to the business manager in the public sector.  The question arising there is whether that is a political pressure as opposed to a forgotten part of the education.

I would love to hear some thoughts…


The average is 4% of visible infrastructure is in poor condition.  Actually 4-6% depending on the municipality.  And this was visible infrastructure, not buried, but there is not particular reason to believe the below ground infrastructure is somehow far worse off.  Or better.   That 4-6% is infrastructure that needs to be fixed immediately, which means that as system  deteriorate, there is catch –up to do.  The good news is many of the visible problems were broken meter boxes, damaged valve boxes, broken curbs and broken cleanouts- minor appearing issues, but ones that likely require more ongoing maintenance that a water main.  And the appearance may be somewhat symptomatic – people perceive that the system is rundown, unreliable or poorly maintained when they see these problems.  It raises a “Tipping Point” type discussion.  “Tipping Points” Is a book written by Malcolm Gladwell that I read last year (great book – my wife found it in a book exchange for free in Estes Park last summer).  It was along a similar vein of thought as the Freakanomics books – the consequences of certain situations may be less clear than one thinks.  The Tipping point that is most relevant is crime in New York in the early 1990s after Bernard Goetz shot several assailants in the subway.  The problem was significant and the subways were thought to be among the higher risk areas.  The new police chief and Mayor decided that rather that ignore the petty crimes (like many large cities do), they would pursue those vigorously.  So fare hopping on the train and the like were challenged immediately.  They decided that no graffiti would be visible on the subways and cleaned cars every night to insure this remained the case.  Cars with graffiti were immediately removed from service.  New subway cars were ordered.  Pride and public confidence improved.  Crime dropped.  The impact of their efforts was that people recognized that criminal behavior would not be tolerated and fairly quickly criminal activity decreased.  It was a big success story, but the underlying reasons were less discussed, but easily transferrable to our infrastructure.  If we have broken valve boxes, meters, cleanouts, storm drains etc., the same perceptions of a rundown community rise.  Rundown communities lead to a loss of public confidence and trust and pride.   And none of those help our mission or our efforts to increase infrastructure spending.  4% might not look like much, but it can drastically change the perception of the community.  So let’s start to fix those easy things; and document that we did in our asset management programs.


How many utilities have a 3D map of their infrastructure?  Not many I bet.  But FAU does.  Here is a recently completed project we did with students and the Facilities Maintenance staff at FAU (costs involved).  They needed better mapping and will tie this to their work order system.  It was an excellent opportunity for two groups within one organization that otherwise seem to have little in common wot work toward a great project.  We will be inputting this data into an online asset management system this summer along with some data for Dania Beach so they will have a portion of their utility system in 3D also.  This is part of a tiny project we did for their downtown area.

GIS is a powerful tool and one utilities should embrace wholeheartedly.  There is so much more than mapping to do.  Data gathering in critical, but with Leica and Trimble units, a lot of data can be gathered easily.  LiDAR can be expensive, but the value is tremendous.  You can see that the FAU system is laid on a 3D LiDAR topographic map (6 in vertical accuracy).  Asset condition assessments were also done concurrently, which adds a lot of information to the system (all assets were also photographed and linked).  Drawing files can be downloaded and extruded from 2D to 3D. Engineers know GIS or can learn it, which makes a fully expanded GIS system for the utility easy to derive if the time is spent.  This is a valuable tool when linked to work orders and asset management programs.

So is your utility in 3D?  Capture


Collaboration between students, faculty and the real world is an excellent means to integrate students into real world situation and provide them valuable experience.  I have done this with several communities to date.  Below are the installed OASIS street improvements in Dania Beach.  Students did the drafting.  Also a stormwater pipe in Boynton Beach.  Excellent learning experience.  The campus mapping project is one that our Facilities Management Department needed.  Very cool 3D map.  We did stormwater assessments in Davie, plus flood mapping.  Of course the Dania Beach nanofiltration plant, the first LEED Gold water plant in the world.  Still.  Here is the cool thing with working with students – they have all kinds of ideas and have all kinds of tools that they can access – they just need guidance.   They will create tools (our app for asset management). to make the job easier.  Most collaborate well.  And most want to learn about the profession.  As an industry we should promote this more.  Go to the local universities, talk with faculty.  Find the right faculty mentor who is interested in local outreach.  Work with them.  But students should not work free.  Pay or pay in grades.  It’s only fair.


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