Or – Why Inspections are Fundamental to Asset Management

Two engineering departments in the City of Honolulu have very different approaches to the same problem.

The city does not have an inspection program for light poles, despite the fact that there are 51,000 street lights on the island. The city says it doesn’t have the money or staff to maintain one.”For us to stop funding other programs, like providing better lighting to fund pole inspections, is something that’s not going to be productive,” said Ross Sasamura, director of the Dept. of Facility Maintenance…

A different department, Transportation Services, takes care of the lights that are attached to traffic signals, like the one that fell on Atkinson. Director Mike Formby is asking for $180,000 in the budget to get his own inspection program off the ground.”What we’re trying to do right now is a systematic inspection program, where we go through the county and inspect all the traffic lights in this region and we move through the county,” he said.

via: KHON2 – City to inspect poles when replacing street lights

Considering that steel streetlight poles typically have a lifespan of around 20 years, (and even less in corrosive environments such as salt spray near beaches). A proactive inspection and replacement program would appear valuable to ensure that streetlights are kept in good condition.

Photo Credit: Kumaravel cc
Photo Credit: Kumaravel cc

What is Asset Management?

A pretty straight-forward definition of Asset Management comes from one of my favourite road organizations, Austroads

“…a comprehensive and structured approach to the long-term management of assets as tools for the efficient delivery of community benefits.” – Strategy for Improving Asset Management Practice, AUSTROADS.

It is impossible to manage assets that you know nothing about, so it is ironic that the director of facility maintenance has no money, or real interest in an inspection program to determine the condition of the assets. Comprehensive asset management programs are built on a foundation of data, and the more quality data you have, the easier it is to manage that asset class.

And Data Starts with Inspections

In most cases, better quality data only comes from inspections. General assumptions can be made regarding the age of an asset, but without inspection, the actual condition of an asset can only be assumed. Inspections don’t have to be extremely detailed as a first assessment, for instance, streetlight assessments could firstly be done using Google street-view to assess light standard types and “drive by” visual assessment. The next level would be a visual inspection of each pole, looking for rust, dents, missing bolts and soundness of installation. From this information, priority ranking could be determined for repair or replacement.

Prioritizing Asset Management

Effective management of infrastructure assets is a growing challenge for North American local governments. With aging infrastructure, an understanding of the required effort and financing to rehabilitate, renew, replace or abandon existing infrastructure, (even before considering the impacts of growth on asset inventory) is critical. This will inform funding requests at all levels of government and ensure consistency among departments, and build a culture of awareness of how to prevent the problem from recurring.

Simple and inexpensive tools and techniques exist to improve an organization’s infrastructure awareness – infrastructure inspection forms, policy templates, organizational asset maturity assessments, the International Infrastructure Management Manual, and NAMS Plus templates are great starting points.

Strong asset management practices take a proactive approach to the infrastructure deficit issue, and establishes business practices that support truly sustainable infrastructure. Neglecting inspections in an effort to focus on “problem areas” is dealing with the symptom, not the problem. There is no understanding of infrastructure deficit, future costs or planning on how to address these issues.


Published by Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of UrbanWorkbench.com and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada.

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