Fire hydrant near U.S. Capitol building/Photo courtesy of Jonathon Colman Fire hydrant near U.S. Capitol building Photo courtesy of Jonathon Colman

Infrastructure built during President Abraham Lincoln's administration in the 1860s still provides Washington, D.C., with water -- this includes the water citizens use every day and what firefighters tap into to keep residents and property safe. The district's water assets include approximately 1,800 miles of sewer lines, 36,000 valves and 9,000 public fire hydrants.

Until 1999, the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority (WASA) managed these assets the old-fashioned way, too: on paper. The authority had 40 computers and a single e-mail address, said CIO Mujib Lodhi. WASA needed modernization, especially for the community's safety.

Although mapping water assets on paper showed authorities what size water main hooks up to a specific fire hydrant -- which dictates water flow available from the hydrant -- that information couldn't be accessed quickly during an emergency response. According to a Washington Post article, firefighters waited 40 minutes at a July 2009 residential fire before a WASA representative arrived to direct them to larger water mains. The low water pressure on some hydrants forced firefighters to try hydrants on other blocks and bring in reinforcements from a neighboring county.

"Our fire hydrants were in extreme disarray -- over the years they had been neglected. No maintenance and limited replacement were done on the fire hydrants themselves," said Lt. Sean Egan, hydrant inspection coordinator for the District of Columbia Fire and Emergency Medical Services department. "So we [worked] with the water authority, started building systems and trying to figure out how to correct these measures, implement testing measures, and collect data and exchange it with the water authority."

To help combat information sharing issues and provide WASA with up-to-date information about its water assets, the authority collaborated with IBM's Global Business Services and Research to integrate analytics with asset-management software. Now WASA and the fire department share hydrant information in near real time with databases updated hourly.

Tracking Hydrant Inspections

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Elaine Pittman Elaine Pittman  |  Former Managing Editor

Elaine Pittman worked for Government Technology from 2008 to 2017.