Imagine it. A water main or a hydrant valve breaks beneath many inches of snow. The only way to know where the leak originates is to begin digging and digging and digging.
The result is expensive damage to streets, sidewalks and other infrastructure and hours without community utility service.
Johnstown Village Manager Jim Lenner said the village is in the process of digitally mapping all village underground lines to be certain that sort of scenario never occurs.
"It'll save time and energy, and we're doing all the data collection in house," he said. "It's to make better decisions, ultimately."
Lenner said Johnstown has initiated a project to gather geographic-information-systems data and photographs of village water, sewer and storm water infrastructure.
This project will involve village employees walking Johnstown streets to collect hundreds of different points and pictures.
"You will see our employees walking around town over the next year," Lenner said. "Using specific GPS software and iPads, our staff will have real-time data in case of a line break or to plan for infrastructure replacement project or locate a line for utility contractors."
By collecting this information, village crews no longer will have to search for paper maps or wonder what infrastructure is in the area, therefore cutting staff time and making better decisions. He said it's also a matter of safety for village employees, who wouldn't discover a water leak the hard way.
"(The leak) has enough force to knock you down," Lenner said. "As local government officials, our staff must work to strengthen the village's infrastructure.
"We are responsible for many assets, such as transportation, water, sewer and stormwater infrastructure," he said. "GIS gives us the data management and mapping tools we need for better asset management, planning, and prioritization."
Lenner, who studied the related technology in school, said he initially expected the data collection process to take roughly three years and was pleasantly surprised to find it should take only about one.
"This is going so much quicker than we imagined," he said, adding that the process is not an additional expense for the village. "With the iPads, we can do it now."
Lenner said Newark, for example, invested many thousands of dollars into its digital mapping system.
For security reasons, he said, the data will not be readily available online to everyone, he said. However, anyone could visit the village office and request data.
"They would actually have to ask us for a map," he said.
Taking the photos and collecting the data are time-consuming work, Lenner said, but time well-worth the effort.
"We'll be using it every day," he said.