1999 Finalist
City of San Diego, California
Innovations in American Government Awards
Innovations in American Government Awards

The complexity of modern urban life can quickly turn into chaos when issues arise with ensuring a clean water supply for homes and businesses, or removing the city's waste in a sanitary and efficient manner. The San Diego Water Department (SDWD) administers a network stretching over 450 square miles, with 2890 miles of pipe pumping 195 million gallons of water daily. When problems arise, the SDWD staff needs updated and accurate information in order to deal with them as quickly as possible. Often, communication between field workers and office dispatchers is strained when paper work orders are lost, incomplete, inaccurate, or simply not written.

To meet these problems, in 1997, the San Diego Data Processing Corporation (SDDPC), the outsourced information technology arm of the City of San Diego, created the Sewer/Water Infrastructure Management (SWIM) system, a powerful field computing system for water and sewer infrastructure maintenance and repair. At the core of the system is the SWIMpen, a hand-held pen computer application that stores data about the city's entire land infrastructure and pipe networks. Crews can use the pen to view and update geographic information system (GIS) facility maps of over 1.3 million separate facilities, record the work performed on individual components, and itemize the time required to complete each work task.

The SWIMpen incorporates GPS technology to ensure that crews can easily locate their work sites, and uses a "virtual keyboard" to eliminate the annoyances of external keyboards common to other field computing setups. By eliminating the need for map guides, schematic drawings, microfiche readers, gate books, and hard copy work orders, the device helps city workers take a giant leap toward a paperless maintenance management system. From the bottom up, the system was designed with the end user in mind, with a keen understanding for where the systemic problems occur in water facilities maintenance.

With the new system in place, work crews are more self-reliant and accurate. Crews no longer have to phone the central office for information requests, keep paper logs of their work, or use out of date map books on their jobs. For example: before the implementation of the SWIMpen program, crews were able to inspect eight backflow prevention valves (which keep contaminated water out of the drinking water supply) in one day of work: afterwards they were able to inspect up to fifteen daily.

Before SWIMpen, as many of 25% of work orders dispatched were neglected or not completed correctly, but now all must be accounted for in the system before moving on to new work. Environmental violations from incorrect drilling and maintenance activity have been reduced, and overall efficiency has improved the city's water quality and waste treatment programs.