One year after Hurricane Sandy, I have to applaud the communities that were affected for uniting and rising above the devastation and continuing to restore, renew and reclaim their quality of life. Indeed, this summer’s “Stronger than the Storm” rally cry (from New Jersey, but certainly applicable elsewhere) is proving true as individuals, neighborhoods, business and industries take the experiences of Sandy to heart and emerge better aware of, and prepared for, the impact of major climate events.
Sandy taught us lessons about emergency preparedness that were learned by citizens, and by service providers across the board – including the water industry. I can say at this point that I’m confident, should another storm loom that is even a mere percentage the threat Sandy, everyone will take steps to be as prepared as possible. It is because of these lessons that the communities impacted by Sandy can state we are strong after the storm.
For the water industry, we are particularly focused now on how we can leverage the one power we have that Mother Nature does not: technology. For example, before Sandy struck, American Water invested in a pilot program utilizing Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Global Positioning Systems (GPS). At the time, we considered this program as a way to better map our assets (pipelines, meters, etc.) in New Jersey, and, therefore, more efficiently locate them for maintenance and repair. It also is a way for us to identify areas of significant water loss between the source and our customers. With the GIS-GPS technology offering a more effective, efficient way to manage, repair and install new systems, the value of this program in saving time and money for our customers quickly became evident.
The devastation of Sandy elevated the value of our GIS-GPS technology far beyond what we initially envisioned. The storm not only changed our lives, it restructured the landscape – to say it was a challenge to use analog maps and charts to locate water systems is an understatement. It took our teams hours, and even days, to locate and uncover mains and meters before we could even start the repairs.
However, for those systems included in our pilot program, the digital mapping and GIS-GPS tracking allowed us to identify systems in mere seconds. Moreover, by using the system we could determine the service status of customers in the storm area. In addition to helping us better identify where we needed to focus attention, it allowed us to suspend the billing cycle so as not to charge customers with disrupted service. As we saw it, it was our responsibility as a service provider and as a New Jersey citizen to do anything we could do to give our community ‘one less’ worry as it faced recovery from the destruction of Sandy – whether that be as major as returning water service, or saving them the time it would take to pursue billing reimbursement.
In areas the hardest hit by the storm, our systems also helped the electric and gas utilities in the region locate their assets, as well as the municipalities locate where the curbs were so they could begin to establish the streets again.
One year after Sandy, we continue to focus on strengthening our service ability as we strive to fulfill our responsibility to the community. With everyone continuing to act on the lessons of the storm and focus on innovation and investments in technology, the impact of major climate events – while, unavoidable – can become less and less devastating.