June storms caused a series of minor power outages in Anderson, Ind., but city employees were able to respond more quickly than ever with the help of a recently deployed fleet management system.

The Web-based solution utilized by Anderson’s Municipal Light and Power Division helped trucks nearest the outages to be efficiently deployed.

“We were able to manage those vehicles more effectively than we have in the past by being able to say, ‘OK, we have Crew A finishing up on this outage and now we can send them right here a couple subdivisions over that are having another outage,’” said the department’s GIS manager, Jason Tuck.

The GeoManager system by Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Trimble was implemented in Anderson’s utility division in December. Each of the division’s 50 vehicles has been equipped with a GPS unit that communicates the information back to the utility division via cellular technology.

Tuck said the system has helped Anderson improve response times and increase efficiency, though the city hasn’t yet gathered metrics that detail those savings. Fuel has also been saved because vehicles are no longer sent longer distances than necessary.

It cost nearly $20,000 to integrate all 50 vehicles into the system.

The new system’s shining moment came three months ago in June, when between 30 and 40 separate outages occurred in Anderson, which is northeast of Indianapolis.

The resulting savings in fuel consumption and fewer staff hours dedicated to the fleet dispatch during the June storms incident helped the division realize nearly 20 percent in cost savings, Tuck said.

Before deploying the system, the utility division wrote on white boards to map the locations of its vehicles. Tuck said the old process involved making many phone calls to each field crew before official clearance was given to restore a location’s power.

The new system still requires some human-to-human communication — the fleet manager or dispatcher contacts the vehicle driver to verify the vehicle’s location, and then the fleet manager gives clearance for that vehicle to restore the power — but now the fleet management system interfaces with the division’s outage management system through GeoManager’s MultiSpeak function. According to Trimble, the MultiSpeak function helps integrate an agency’s existing utility application with the fleet management system.

Because the two maps interface with each other, the fleet manager only has to look at one screen. The manager can then track information from the outage map and at the same time can see the fleet’s vehicles moving around on the map, Tuck said.

This feature was important. The Municipal Light and Power Division looked into deploying GPS technology with a different vendor, but Tuck said the vendor didn’t want to integrate its system with the utility division’s outage system.

The fleet management system has only been implemented so far in Anderson’s utility division, but the city hopes to roll out the solution to other divisions in 2012.

Sarah Rich, Staff Writer Sarah Rich  |  Staff Writer

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. Since 2010, Sarah has written for Government Technology magazine and covers a spectrum of public-sector IT topics, including cloud computing, transparency, broadband, and other innovative projects and trends. She currently lives in Sacramento, Calif.