Minimizing Emergency Pipe Repairs

Gathering information and data to help forecast when repairs and replacements are needed and converting these emergencies into scheduled repairs can help utilities plan better — with fewer interrupted nights, weekends and holidays.

Look to be involved in the installation of other utilities as they will eventually be turned over to you. Ensure the plans of the project meet all requirements and the final prints are accurate.
Look to be involved in the installation of other utilities as they will eventually be turned over to you. Ensure the plans of the project meet all requirements and the final prints are accurate.

Gathering information and data will help forecast when repairs and replacements are needed

By Doug Riseden 

Water main breaks have an uncanny way of happening at night, on weekends and during the holidays — or at least it seems that way. While it would be great to have a crystal ball to predict when these breaks might happen, the reality is that emergency pipe repairs are a fact of life for utilities. How can we minimize their occurrence, make them less severe, and shorten water shut-offs that lead to closed businesses, frustrated customers and other negative consequences?

The answer is by looking backward as we move forward, gathering information and data to help forecast when repairs and replacements are needed, and converting inconvenient emergencies into scheduled repairs. Here are some steps for gathering the information and data you need, recording it, and assessing when repairs or replacements are needed. Follow these steps and you’ll have more emergency-free nights, weekends and holidays.

1. Keep accurate records of previous repairs and installations

2. Answer the five W’s (and how)

3. Keep track of new installations by other utilities

4. Take photos and shoot video

5. Assess and plan

6. Make repairs with the right products

Keep Accurate Records

It is critical to keep accurate records of previous repairs and installations to understand when and where breaks are most likely to happen. Be sure to establish practices to keep records for every repair and new installation, and sit down with your crews to discuss the need for accurate record keeping. Employees who have been with your utility for a long time can offer all sorts of information and details about the original installations, such as when and where they took place. When they talk, listen and take notes.

You’ll also need to establish a way to retain your information. There are many types of software tools available that can keep these records and store them for future capital improvement projects (CIPs). These programs are great at handling huge amounts of information but aren’t a necessity, particularly if you’re with a smaller utility. Regardless of utility size, however, information gathering is critical; in fact, with fewer employees, it’s even more important to ensure information is shared. You don’t want to lose that knowledge should employees decide to go elsewhere. You may only have a homemade form to record information — it doesn’t matter. Write it down and use it to upgrade your data and utility maps.

Answer the Five W’s (and How)

Your records should be able to answer the 5 W’s (who, what, when, where, why) and how.

Who: Who made the repair? Who were the crew members involved?

What: What kind of repair was made (e.g. repair or replace, fixing a previous repair)? What kind of product was used (e.g. clamp, coupling)? What material is the pipe made of?

When: What date and time was the repair made? Under what weather conditions (e.g. temperature) was the repair made?

Where: Where was the repair made? Give exact locations or triangulate the location based on available information.

Why: Why did the break occur (e.g. old pipe that broke due to age, another utility hit the line, product defect, ground movement)?

How: How many times have we repaired a section of pipe? How old is the pipe?

When in doubt, err on the side of more detail, not less.

HYMAX coupling being installed. Be sure to keep your inventory stocked with at least two repair products on the shelf for each pipe size to minimize time handling emergencies.HYMAX coupling being installed. Be sure to keep your inventory stocked with at least two repair products on the shelf for each pipe size to minimize time handling emergencies.

Keep Track of New Installations by Other Utilities

New construction seems to be going on almost everywhere. It could be something your utility is involved with or a new project where outside companies are making installations. These new utilities will eventually be turned over to you, and they will become your headache if you don’t make it your business to know everything about them. Make sure you are involved before the first shovel goes in the ground and that the project meets all local, state and federal requirements. Inspect the final prints (“as builts”) to make sure they are accurate. In most cases they will simply be another set of the original prints, so make sure you change them and have the engineer correct them with your changes.

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Take Photos and Shoot Video

Everyone has a mobile phone that can take photos and shoot video so use it to document before, during and after the project. Take plenty of pictures and download them to your computer for future reference, particularly the details on a utility line that has become a part of your system. Organize these photos and videos by project, and use them to upgrade maps, order repair parts, and locate lines for when they need to be replaced.

Assess and Plan

You may wonder how all this information is going to help your utility. Take all the information that you’ve gathered and evaluate when repairs or replacements need to take place. If you note that you’ve been to a certain location several times recently, you should make plans to replace that section of pipe.

When you begin to gather data and information, you can list and prioritize repairs and plan for replacement projects. You may need to reschedule sections to replace because of the frequency of repairs for another section. Is this a CIP project that will require floating a bond or a grant application? All of this information can help with project plans and preparations as well as obtaining the buy-in of stakeholders and your municipal council.

Make Repairs with the Right Products

While it’s great to plan repairs and replacements, you need to make sure that you have the right product on hand for any repair. We’ve all been in that position at least once in our careers: an emergency arises and we don’t have the product on hand to fix it. HYMAX, for example, can ship most of these emergency products overnight; however, products that need to be made to order require time to design and manufacture, so planning is extremely important in these cases.

Be sure to order parts well in advance, and consider having at least two repair products on the shelf for each size of pipe in your system. Build a good relationship with your supplier, as you may need them when those emergencies arise.

Planning ahead for repairs and replacements and having repair products on hand will help you change your emergency repairs to scheduled repairs and will show off your professional skills to your stakeholders. When we plan and prepare, repairs can be done according to our schedule and help minimize emergencies.

Emergencies are still going to happen. But if we evaluate our systems based on all the information we have gathered, we can better forecast repairs and replacements with fewer interrupted nights, weekends and holidays. WW

About the Author: Doug Riseden is HYMAX technical support manager with KRAUSZ USA. He has worked in the public utility field for over 25 years. His extensive experience with water and wastewater repairs and operations includes working for municipalities and private contractors as well as providing water services to the NATO-led security mission in Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.

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