I was excited to be interviewed last month by Cadalyst and even more excited today to find the interview featured over on their CAD Speed blog. It was great to share what is going on in the industry particularly as it relates to CAD. We talked about the latest trends and offered information about the Public Works Group and our mission. Check out the interview here:
This year when the APWA Congress opens up in Chicago the week of August 25th, there will be a new type of session offered to attendees called a Public Works Camp. This event is held in an unconference style where the "presenters" serve more as hosts and the "attendees" create and drive the session. Because our local branch, the APWA Fox Valley Branch, has been holding similar events over the last few years, members of the branch's education committee, myself included, will help serve as hosts. We look forward to participating in this type of session at the Congress and hope other attendees discover the same value we have found in offering this type of educational experience. And we encourage everyone attending the Congress to stop by the camp on Monday and/or Tuesday from 10 am to 10:50 am to check it out and participate!
For those who are not familiar with a camp or unconference style session, here is some background information:
Specifically tailored for the public works community, the Public Works Camp is an unconference focused on exploring ideas, lessons learned, best practices, industry standards, regulations, and patterns that can be implemented within and shared across the profession.
The camp has several primary goals:
- To bring together people from the public and private sector who are either interested in or working in the public works field to share perspectives, insights, ideas about the public works profession and industry.
- To share best practices, particularly those focused on increasing sustainability, effectiveness, and efficiency.
- To foster communities of practice and advocacy on the role of our profession in our world.
- To offer educational opportunities that are innovative, fun, and effective and build on more traditional methods.
- To create outcomes that participants will act upon after the event is over.
The format allows for a more informal atmosphere in which people can bring up the issues or ideas that matter most to them. They can also obtain feedback or information from other professionals who share those same concerns. The end result is a more intense educational experience than is usually found in more traditional presentations.
Yesterday Dave Lawry and I presented Using Social Media to Communicate Emergency Response at the 2013 APWA North Amercian Snow Conference in Charlotte, North Carolina. It was fun to give the presentation with Dave because he had some interesting first-hand experiences with implementing social media as a communication tool, particularly during snow operations. His stories came from when he was serving as the Director of Public Works for the city of Elgin in Ill. – some of what they had done has been covered by this blog over the years.
About a year or so ago, Dave moved on to take a position with Chastain and Associates. But even though he is no longer with a city, he continues to encourage and help others in local government with figuring out how best to implement the use of social media. Today Dave led a roundtable discussion at the conference to further explore the topic and share thoughts. He sent me an email and said, "The followup round table was well attended today with two from the class yesterday wishing to continue the discussion. My table was full." Even though I would have liked to attend, I had to return to Illinois because of other commitments so missed the discussion, but I am sure based on the questions we got yesterday it was helpful and informative.
Fortunately I'll be able to work again with Dave in the Fall when we discuss Social Media and Public Works at the 12th Annual Public Service Institute on Oct. 8, 2013, in Effingham, Ill. Our presentation will be given as part of IPSI – a leadership and management program held each year for one week in Illinois. The entire program, which focuses primarily on public works, spans a three-year time period. Last year was my first year of training, and I plan to return this year not only to help Dave with the social media session, but also to go for my second year as a student. As anyone who has attended will tell you, the highlights of the program are Lewis and Mary Bender – the two incredible people who are responsible for organizing and hosting the whole event. Lew also teaches most of the sessions. If you haven't gone yet, I highly recommend you consider going. Just meeting Lew and being able to learn from his years of wisdom makes it all worth it by itself. But the added benefit is you'll also be able to network with and learn from other public works people from all over Illinois. It's really one of the few training opportunities we have for learning how to manage in the unique setting in which we all work. And I'm sure as part of our session at IPSI, Dave and I will be able to further explore the use of social media as a communication tool during emergencies. (Note that I am no longer with the employer shown on the schedule – I've since accepted a position with another governmental agency.)
But for now, you can view the presentation we gave yesterday here:
Today I noticed that Twitter had added the ability to add a header image to a Twitter profile. So I created a few headers out of some photos related to public works and posted them on the Public Works Group site. So if you would like to change out the header on your Twitter profile and are looking for a public works themed image, just click on over to the Free Twitter Header page on our site and copy the ones you like. (They are offered with a creative commons license.) The link is below:
And here's how the Public Works Group Twitter page looks with one of the headers:
Have you ever had a question about something related to public works? Sewers, roads, water, garbage, engineering, GIS, general government, or anything else related to what we do? Well, we're trying out a new service that would allow anyone to post or answer a question related to public works. Maybe you work in the field and just want to know what others are doing or perhaps you are a citizen or developer and are looking for some general knowledge. Either way you can now click on over to the Public Works Group Answers page and start asking away. Or if you work in public works or government and like sharing your knowledge, feel free to jump in and help out.
We'll be evaluating how useful the service is over the next few weeks. So if you have any opinions about it, the comment box is below!
Below is a report of the 2nd Day of the National APWA Conference:
General Session: Becoming a Community Builder – Leadership in Changing Times
Day two of the 2011 APWA conference started with a general session, Becoming a Community Builder – Leadership in Changing Times, with keynote speaker, Ian Hill. He began by sharing his background and how he came to be involved in helping the public works profession develop leadership. Hill admitted he used to be a typical person who thought culverts, roads, and stuff like that just happen. But since getting involved in our profession he has managed to interview and spend time with thousands of people in public works. And after hearing his talk, I believe he has managed to find the pulse and heart of our community. When he described how we work so hard with such commitment, belief in our mission and communities, and dedication to our jobs, then one day get smacked down "into the cement" at a public meeting or stabbed in the back by others in our workplace, I thought "how can he know exactly what happened to me!?" But I quickly realized everyone else in the room was relating to this too. Yet, the inspiring part of our profession is that we all managed to get back up, and here we are again focused on figuring out how to improve ourselves and what we do so we can go back home and continue to make our communities even better.
This is one of the reasons I believe it is so important to maintain a membership in an organization like APWA and spend time with each other. Yes, the organization offers great information to use at our jobs and share with co-workers. But when you work in a profession that is constantly under scrutiny and bears so much criticism, most times completely unwarranted, you need to have opportunities to reach out to others who can relate and share your experiences. This networking also helps us figure out how to motivate others in our field who are also "battered and bruised" by the constant bashing of public employees. Because as Hill pointed out, that is one of the challenges of our jobs. How do you lead people who work hard everyday but continually hear from the press the message that they are bad, lazy, worthless public employees who don't deserve the salary or benefits they've earned? How do you walk in each day and ask them to give it their all? Hill said "we need to ask ourselves what is the leadership approach required for the environment today?"
Right of Way Permitting – City of Hamilton, Canada
The next session I attended was about right of way permitting. Although we don't issue a lot of right of way permits each year – probably under 100 – it would still be nice to have a system other than a spreadsheet to track them. So I went to the session to learn more about ROW permitting systems. The presentation was given by Gordon McGuire who works for the city of Hamilton, a city in Canada of approximately 500,000 people. McGuire discussed their system which is built on a combination of Oracle Go360, Bentley Map, and PRISM. In his community, the city handles all restoration and bills the utility. Some of the interesting points for me were that Canada has realized that utility installations cost tax payers money. This is because many times we have to change our plans or pay the contractor more money to deal with non-city utilities.
Bus Rapid Transit
Our county has been studying the implementation of a BRT route along one of the major corridors through our city. So, in the afternoon, I attended a talk about Bus Rapid Transit. The talk was given by Sharon Humphreys, senior project engineer with Bureau Veritas. She primarily talked about the BRT route that was created in San Diego. This project was financed through a ½ cent gas tax. The BRT is administered by the San Diego association of governments. However, MTS will eventually own, operate, and maintain the system.
The buses serving their BRT were designed for swift passenger loading with multiple streams. The vehicles are 35 feet in length and have enhanced wheelchair access. They run on a gasoline-hybrid propulsion system and are equipped with an AVL unit with GPS.
Signals along the route are set up to allow for queue jump lanes so the busses run in separate lanes. If the bus is running behind schedule, this allows for the bus to get an early green ahead of the other traffic. But the early green is not given if the bus is on time.
In their experience the BRT has been very successful. She suggested it was important to plan for BRT in areas of high congestion, large number of riders, and expensive parking facilities. But a key aspect of their system that probably ensures its success is that it runs through and serves the University of California with three of its 17 stops on campus property. So I imagine there was a high potential for student ridership that other communities might not have.
Stormwater always seems to be a hot topic in public works. So another session I attended was about the International BMP Database. The main presenter was Jane Clary from Wright Water Engineers. She explained the history of the database – it was initially funded by the USEPA via the Urban Water Resources Research Council of ASCE. But now, it is supported by a broad coalition led by WERF. The project’s central focus is to “gather technical design and performance information to improve BMP selection and design.”
The database is set up so that anyone analyzing performance of BMPs can submit data to the site. It currently has data representing a total of 470 BMPs. Clary went through a couple examples of how to search for a BMP and access the related data. Much of the information seemed to be presented in “box plots.” These graphs indicate the probability of success for that BMP. The data related to each BMP can be downloaded for later analysis.