Not so long ago, work crews that replaced burned out streetlights relied upon citizens to call in and report them. The process took time.

Now, more and more public works departments are using remote technology to find darkened streetlights in near real time. One of them is Glendale, Ariz., located 10 miles northwest of Phoenix. Glendale has installed a wireless outdoor street light monitoring and control system aimed at keeping the city well lit.

The system, called “Remote Operations Asset Management” (ROAM) was installed by Glendale in 2008 to monitor the daily performance of each street light within the city’s 55 square miles. The technology allows the city to take immediate action and repair a light that’s malfunctioning or burned out.

The system connects to state-of the-art photo cells that were installed in each of the city’s nearly 20,000 street lights. The cell controls each light’s timing and also records its performance at 30-minute intervals.

“I describe it as a photo cell on steroids,” said Mike Sills-Trausch, Glendale’s city’s street lighting program manager. “Every street light across the United States is operated by a photo cell that tells the light when to turn off and when to turn on, but the ROAM photo cells have a computer circuitry in it and that allows each node to communicate its operating condition to a gateway approximately every 30 minutes.”

In Glendale, about 50 gateways have been installed around the city so that the information about the streetlights is transmitted via the Internet to the ROAM vendor’s office in Atlanta. Once the vendor, Acuity Brands, receives the information, Glendale city staff can access the data online to see the city’s light performances from the previous day.

Glendale takes 10 to12 work orders each day regarding light repair. The work orders can be completed through a module within the ROAM system, which can also be tracked until the repair is completed. With the use of ROAM’s integrated mapping software and GPS technology, service technicians are able to more accurately identify the location of the street light that needs repair, according to Sills-Trausch.

Prior to the system installation, the city would do night-time sweeps once every three to six months in which volunteer group members would drive around the city, recording and reporting the locations of burned out street lights.

With this method, several hundred work orders for maintenance would be made at once, an amount that couldn’t be processed all at once. By immediately receiving information about needed repairs, the city no longer has to respond to street light work orders in large waves.

Once the system was implemented, it reported that more than 10 percent of Glendale’s street lights either weren’t working properly or weren’t operating to industry standards, according to Acuity Brands.

The system cost nearly $1.4 million, covered by a funding source resulting from a transportation sales tax that had been passed in the city about 10 years ago, Sills-Trausch said.

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.