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Technology transforms response to sewer overflow

Kingsport, Tennessee

It wasn’t long ago that the City of Kingsport, Tennessee relied on a DOS-based land management program to track work and assets. The system allowed plenty of room for error – piles of printed work orders, follow-up tasks that fell through the cracks, and conversations that were often forgotten.

Within weeks of implementing Cartegraph, the wastewater department responded to an overflow that demonstrated just how the technology would transform operations.


Until 2014, all work orders in the Kingsport Wastewater Department were done on paper. Jobs were entered into the old computer system and printed out, along with corresponding maps. At the start of each workday, supervisors handed the paperwork over to field crews and explained the tasks. At the end of the day, workers turned in written reports for foremen to review and prioritize. That information had to be processed and entered back into the system.

“A lot of hands touched it and it took a long time for information to get back,” remembers Kristen Steach, Wastewater Technical Services Coordinator. This was especially problematic when a map needed to be corrected or updated. Crews would note revisions on the paper map then hand it off to Steach. She would draw the corrections in electronically and send it over to the GIS team to update the mapping system. Sometimes, details got lost or misinterpreted along the way resulting in inaccurate maps that were frustrating to the field crews.


The public works team ditched the paper-based system and implemented Cartegraph in December of 2014. They quickly realized the value of the system when—a few weeks after going live—a sanitary sewer overflowed near a high school running track.

This was the second occurrence within the year, raising several questions: Why did it happen again? Had proper repairs been made? Was it the ongoing impact of an industrial contributor upstream? Further investigation revealed that some of the follow-up work on the first overflow had been delayed in the stacks of tasks waiting to be prioritized.

This time, Cartegraph facilitated immediate action. “It was our very first work order,” says Steach. The team used the Cartegraph mobile app to log every task—from the initial response to the CCTV inspection to the cleanup and repair. Meanwhile, supervisors were able to track progress in real-time from the office. “It was good to be able to see everything graphically on screen and know everything got handled; nothing was forgotten in the shuffle of paperwork.”

Once the job was completed, Steach could easily pull a report showing that the work order entailed 26 tasks at a cost of $6,727. “Upper management can see the true cost of following up on every item,” she says. “It’s interesting for the field crews to know the exact value of their time and efforts too. They’ve never had access to that information before.”


In less than a year of using Cartegraph, Kingsport’s wastewater department is seeing positive results across the board.

Time saved. “Using the iPads has really streamlined the information exchange in the morning and afternoon process,” Steach says. “It used to take a half an hour or more to hand out daily assignments. Now, the crews come in, the foremen already have their tasks lined up in the iPads, and they’re off.”

Simplified scheduling. Real-time data allows foremen to monitor progress throughout the day and schedule upcoming work without repeated phone calls. At the end of the day, they don’t need to wade through piles of reports or rely on remembering details of conversations. All tasks are entered into the system so nothing is forgotten.

Accurate, up-to-date mapping. The process of marking revisions on paper and passing it off to get updated in the computer is no longer necessary. With the connection between Cartegraph and ArcGIS, corrections can be made from out in the field when the inaccuracies are discovered.

Field worker engagement. When they encounter an issue on the job, field workers can use the iPads to check the asset history, see exactly what work has already been done, and more quickly identify the cause. Steach notes that with a better understanding of the bigger picture crews can provide valued input, leading them to take ownership of the process and create tasks themselves. “I’ve seen good changes in a lot of people. They’re honestly excited about it.”

Quick-reference data. Managers have data at their fingertips for budgeting, managing workloads, and other activities. For a conference presentation, Steach quickly pulled the average cost per foot of sewer line for cleaning and for CCTV. It’s also easy to look up production numbers and evaluate efficiencies for making decisions about performing work in-house or contracting it out, she says.  

Planning future work. Instead of being tossed onto a growing paper stack, lower priority jobs can be scheduled into available slots. “We’ve laid out work in some cases for a year or two,” says Steach. “We also have some tasks on recurring work orders so we don’t need to recreate them all the time.” The next step will be adding preventive maintenance schedules to the system.