Archive, Infrastructure

Bitter Cold, Busted Pipes and Team Blue


I feel the compelling need at a regular interval to write about the work done by our field crews.  Mostly I am writing about policy or management issues of one sort or another – which are important.  But I need to be reminded, perhaps all of us do, that none of the policy or management ideas matter one bit if we are not able to continue doing our core work in the field, and translate policy and management ideas to outcomes that have an impact in this arena.

I am reminded about the paramount importance of our field work by the consequence of the recent, extended cold snap that has hit Washington, DC and so many other communities in the country.  As the weather gets colder, both the ground surrounding our pipes hardens and the water in the pipes gets colder, temperature fluctuations inside the pipe, combined with a more rigid ground outside the pipe, yield an almost inevitable outcome – more water main leaks and breaks, more leaking valves, and more disruptions to service.   Just to give a sense of one weekend, captured below is our work schedule for last weekend and this week.  On a “normal” day, we would probably have only a few items listed.

Consider for a moment how challenging it is to respond to these work orders.  We have had temperatures in DC that have regularly been in the single digits, and even colder if you count the wind chill.  Our crews are almost be definition working in conditions with flowing water, which is either going to make our folks much wetter and therefore colder, or going to freeze and make the work treacherous.  And of course, as always, all this work is done while our customers have no service.  Despite all the challenges, we know our customers are counting the minutes until we can get the problems fixed and the water back on.

Below is some great coverage of our crews working in the cold by the local NBC affiliate.

My overwhelming reaction is to be impressed and proud of the work our folks do.  These are true public servants, working in the toughest of conditions.  I am proud to work at their side and hope I am helpful in what I do to their efforts.

I also am aware of how hard we are working to make this work more safe and efficient.  We now have an emergency vehicle that we deploy to our larger jobs to give crews a place to warm-up, review appropriate plans, and orchestrate the complicated steps to get this work done properly.  We manage all our work orders on a GIS-based system that allows us to deploy crews in the most efficient manner, and enables us to use a risk-based system to undertake the most important work first – saving lower priority work for later.

The bottom line, though, is that I hope we all become more aware of the incredibly important, often dangerous, always time-pressured, work that our crews undertake on our behalf.  Water is life, and we must keep it flowing – not into the streets and on the sidewalks, but to your homes and businesses!  I tip my hat to the workers of Team Blue.

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