•  Carrier


Turning Data into Information 
Managing Horizontal Infrastructure in a Time of Limited Resources

U.S. Pacific Air Forces engaged industry for a horizontal infrastructure asset management pilot project to develop a GeoBase-centered system that would provide the information required to address high-risk requirements, gradually upgrade systems to required levels of service, and improve operations and maintenance management.

By Robert Abernethy, M.SAME, and Kirk Abbott, AWAM, M.SAME 


Pole camera photo of a main break leaking into the storm sewer. PHOTO COURTESY AECOM


The most recent Report Card for America’s Infrastructure (American Society of Civil Engineers, 2013) grades water, wastewater, and roads at “D” on a scale of A-F, with energy only slightly better at a “D+.” These conditions apply to the infrastructure at Department of Defense (DOD) installations as well. Underground infrastructure assets—water, wastewater, natural gas, and large portions of electrical systems—are “out of sight, out of mind,” and are rarely seen as a priority of primary military missions. Yet, failure of the basic services that this infrastructure provides can have significant impacts on missions. Additionally, degraded infrastructure can lead to significant violations of environmental requirements and, as we’ve recently seen in Flint, Mich., direct threats to human health.

Despite the large quantities of infrastructure data the DOD possesses, there is currently no defined management of that data in a central repository where it can be analyzed effectively for asset management. U.S. Pacific Air Forces (HQ PACAF/A7OP) engaged AECOM to perform a horizontal infrastructure asset management pilot project at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, for multiple infrastructure types.

The goal was to develop a consistent, repeatable approach for infrastructure requirements prioritization and investment across PACAF’s portfolio of installations. This article describes the team’s efforts to develop the processes, criteria, and tools for this system.



Geographic Information Systems (GIS) is the ideal platform for infrastructure asset management. The Air Force and other military branches already have an established GIS system for displaying and recording mission-related data. However, the full power of GIS has yet to be harnessed as it relates to infrastructure asset management.

Currently, infrastructure system data in GIS is incomplete and inaccurate. Hence, the data cannot readily be turned into information for use by engineers and utility personnel. As operational budgets are limited for many installations, low-cost tools and processes founded on GIS are needed to support data collection for use in capital requirements and operations and maintenance planning.



A foundational step to assigning characteristic data to assets is to first define the ways that horizontal linear infrastructure is divided into discrete management units (segments and nodes). A linear segment, like a pipe, is defined by the line connecting any two nodes (manhole/valve). Infrastructure segmentation varies by system type and the ability to ascribe condition attributes by direct observation or by inference. Sewer systems can be directly observed, while closed pipe systems such as potable water cannot. Therefore, those systems are segmented at each manhole.

For drinking water and gas distribution, contiguous pipes are grouped where they share common attributes, such as material and age. Such segments may consist of hundreds feet of contiguous pipe. Segmentation of utilities can be streamlined using GIS tools.


Generalized system workflow: web-based map and data access with the means to download data for use in the field and subsequently upload into the central GIS database, where risk model and report tools automatically update. 



Best practices in asset management include the use of a risk-based approach to determine both capital planning requirements and operations and maintenance requirements. Determining the risk of an asset requires an understanding of the criteria that lead to its probability of failure and defining its consequences of failure, or criticality, as it relates to the mission. These elements are combined together in a weighted numerical scoring system to provide a risk score to prioritize requirements.

Ancillary GIS tables were developed for PACAF for each type of infrastructure under investigation, to include attributes that will store probability of failure and criticality data for each asset. These tables relate and join to the DOD’s Spatial Data Standards for Facilities, Infrastructure, & Environment (SDSFIE) GIS structure.



The team collaborated with HQ PACAF/A7OP to determine the criteria for each infrastructure system previously listed. Industry standards for condition assessments were considered, but another important factor was the value of data versus the cost of that data acquisition.

SDSFIE attributes such as installation date, material, and diameter provide industry standard life expectancy to linear segments. Where direct observation was possible, observed conditions such as breaks, corrosion, deformation, and deflection were used along with remaining service life estimates to derive a Probability of Failure score. However, where direct observation could not be made, estimated remaining service life was used in conjunction with indirect indicators, such as the number of recorded breaks/leaks over a five-year period to derive a Probability of Failure score.


A risk score is determined by analyzing an asset’s probability of failure and the consequences of its failure.



There are generally a few types of mission criticality criteria.

First, the area that would be impacted by asset failure is readily determined from capacity, size, or number of users served by the asset. Second is the mission criticality of facilities or operations impacted by that failure, which is determined by each installation’s specific mission requirements. For example, the catastrophic failure of a pipe running under a runway could, at a minimum, disrupt mission operations. And third, criticality can relate to environmental impacts, such as the proximity of sewer mains and manholes to a water body, which could be impacted by sanitary sewer overflows.



Where an enterprise server environment exists, the risk-based model can be programmed to update risk scores in real time. Subsequently, the risk data can be displayed by color in GIS to provide a graphical depiction of risk scores. An important requirement of either process is that the underlying GIS data is updated on a consistent basis.

Mobile Field Devices and Data Collection Software. Sub-meter GPS-enabled devices provide the optimal means to locate existing assets, as well as map new assets when constructed. Utility technicians are directly engaged with an installation’s infrastructure through their recurring work program and direct service-call activities on a daily basis. Providing easy-to-use data collection software on mobile devices that is designed for a specific workflow facilitates their use by utility technicians in the field. Data collection forms designed with software such as CartoPac offer flexibility and ease of use.

Inspection Equipment. For many infrastructure assets, the condition can be directly observed. Direct inspection of sanitary and storm sewer systems has traditionally involved closed circuit television (CCTV). Although CCTV sewer inspection offers a high level of detail, it comes at a cost. A pole camera is ideal as a screening tool to provide a quick view of the pipe. The risk model developed for PACAF/A7OP required relatively simple observations of the pipe. Simplified pipe inspection criteria involves the use of remote controlled high-definition, fully zoomable still cameras on extendable poles for screening inspections. Observed pipe conditions can then be extrapolated to the entire segment of pipe. Other applications of the pole camera included providing 360° views of electrical/telecommunication manholes, which precluded the need for confined space entry.



Viewing asset data in a meaningful way, either for an individual asset or collectively for the entire infrastructure, is vital for making informed decisions regarding capital planning and prioritizing operations and maintenance activities. For example, Business Intelligence and Reporting Tools (BIRT) is a reporting service that can be used in a server enterprise environment. Report templates are informed by the underlying GIS and risk scoring data and update in real-time.

AECOM developed a GIS-based system with ArcGIS software, along with CartoPac (a data collection/management tool) and BIRT for the reporting interface. SDSFIE attributes are recorded to that geodatabase, while additional condition and operational data are recorded in relational databases.



It is vital to complete a baseline inventory and infrastructure assessment because it provides information to support prioritization of highest risk requirements and provides the support for successful programming for capital projects to address those high-priority issues. This process can be integrated with DOD work order systems to allow continuous updates to infrastructure data by field technicians through a web-based application.

Much of this pilot asset management system and processes have been adopted by the Air Force and used at multiple Air Force and other DOD installations. Implementation of this system, or similar, will provide DOD with the information required to rationally address high-risk requirements and gradually upgrade systems to required levels of service. Additionally, use of this system in operations and maintenance management can develop a proactive stance with planned maintenance and restoration procedures that extend the life of our infrastructure.    


Robert Abernethy, M.SAME, is Senior Program Manager, AECOM;This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Kirk Abbott, AWAM, M.SAME, is Project Engineer, City of San Marcos, Texas; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..