Digital Kitchener stories

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Read the latest Digital Kitchener stories and stay up-to-date on how we're building a city that is more connected, innovative, on-demand and inclusive. 


Simple technology, big impact. How local technology is helping identify leaks and monitor water use with real-time data

Posted August 23, 2018

The city’s facilities management division is monitoring water use across city facilities and is working to implement strategies to resolve issues and create efficiencies; reducing our energy consumption, associated costs and the environmental impact of our operations.

One such strategy was to more closely monitor and identify possible leaks so they could take action to resolve issues in a timely manner or target initiatives to reduce usage in certain areas. To help accomplish this task, facilities management turned to a local solution -- the Alert Labs Flowie water flow sensor. Alert Labs is a local company located in downtown Kitchener. Their product, Flowie, helps home and business owners, property managers and others closely monitor water consumption to quickly identify issues and trends. This product straps onto the water meter and reports real-time usage data via the cellular network. Users can access the data remotely from their computer or mobile device and receive instant alerts when consumption exceeds a threshold or falls outside of their usual pattern.

These monitoring devices were implemented at targeted locations across city facilities and quickly demonstrated their value. Within days of initial implementation, facilities management staff received their first high consumption alert on a Friday evening. Staff quickly responded to investigate that evening and they found grounds watering had been taking place and was mistakenly left on. Without the immediate alert from the device, the water may have been running for hours or even days resulting in wasted water and unnecessary cost. Having heard about this story, staff have also become proactive in monitoring their own usage and contacting facilities management if they anticipate higher than usual water consumption so when the alert is received a possible cause can be immediately attributed.

In addition to reacting to leaks and incidents as they happen, Flowie also provides support to corporate sustainability initiatives by providing detailed data to help inform key water conservation strategies by identifying trends and project opportunities, establishing benchmarks, and measuring the return on investment of specific projects in reduced consumption and cost savings. Being able to capture and track all of this information remotely creates additional efficiencies in timeliness of data and staff time for collection.

The product’s simple installation and ease of use have made it a big win for the facilities management and corporate sustainability teams as they look forward to expanding their fleet of devices and building the product and the data output into their overall plans for energy monitoring and efficiency.

 Did you know? Direct Detect is available for your home and more

Posted July 6, 2018

Did you know that your house or business can be directly monitored for fire and carbon monoxide by the Kitchener Fire Department? This direct link can shave critical time off of emergency response, reducing the severity of an incident and increasing safety for those affected and the firefighters responding to the call. All of this is possible through a service called Direct Detect.

The Direct Detect program launched as a pilot in 1999, offering residential monitoring. It originated under then Fire Chief Jim Hancock, who insisted that more could be done to prevent tragedies like a house fire that led to the deaths of five children in Kitchener in 1997. It has since expanded to enable direct monitoring of commercial & industrial businesses, and for institutional contexts like hospitals, nursing homes, and social housing complexes. When an incident is detected using the Direct Detect monitoring technology, a message goes directly to the Dispatchers at Kitchener Fire Headquarters, who deploy firefighters to respond to the call.

Monitoring is made possible using hardware installed by technicians from the Kitchener Fire Department. They install sensors that detect smoke, heat, and carbon monoxide in strategic locations, which connect to a device that relays the signal back to Kitchener Fire Headquarters. The signal can be transmitted over a telephone line or an internet connection, but most new clients are opting for a direct connection over a dedicated radio signal. The latter option cuts out the middleman by providing connectivity that does not rely on the integrity of infrastructure provided a third-party telephone or internet service provider. In apartment or other multi-tenant buildings, the radio signal is especially appealing because connectivity to the Direct Detect service remains constant when tenants come and go and leave units without an active telephone or internet account. Uninterrupted connection to Direct Detect ensures the property is protected by this monitoring service. The Direct Detect service also has a backup. If the main service experiences an outage, or if connection issues are discovered to a client, a third-party service contacts impacted clients to let them know that active monitoring has been disrupted. This allows the resident or business owner to be extra vigilant to fire safety during the outage period.

Kitchener Fire is currently working on improvements to the customer service and administration experience by moving to a paperless process, including collecting digital signatures on contracts. Keep an eye out for these improvements in the coming months.

Direct Detect is a great example of a technology that formed the strong foundation for the #DigitalKitchener mandate. It was ahead of its time, and helps drive us to do more to offer critical services within the City of Kitchener.

 

Did you know? We have an online property tax calculator!

Posted June 22, 2018

Did you just receive your residential property tax bill? Are you curious about how your taxes are calculated or where exactly your tax dollars are going?

City of Kitchener offers an online property tax calculator for residential property owners to help you understand these details for your specific property.

Using the tool, you can use your address or property roll number to view the property assessment value, and a breakdown of education, regional and city taxes and see how these values have changed through a year-over-year comparison. A pie chart provides a visual representation of each component that makes up your current tax bill.

You can also view additional details on the city portion of your property taxes and gain a personalized understanding of how your specific tax amounts are allocated to support specific city services.

Try it today and get informed!

Need more information about property taxes and how they work? Watch this video to learn more about how your property taxes are calculated each year.
 Kitchener Utilities takes gas valve operating checks mobile
 Posted June 11, 2018

Kitchener Utilities staff maintain approximately 3,500 gas operating valves and approximately 1,600 gas service valves across the city. Periodic checks of these valves are mandatory to ensure that staff can shut off gas service in an emergency situation or as required for maintenance or construction activities.

The challenge

Staff assigned to the valve inspection work were given a package with a paper list of the valves to be checked within a grid area, the GIS attributes and a large map indicating their location.

Utilities staff would go into the field, perform their checks, then indicate updates to the GIS attributes and record the inspection information on the paper form. When fully complete, the package ended up on the desk of support staff to enter the results into the work order management system.

This paper-based process presented a number of challenges, including low process visibility and a slow feedback cycle when there were delays in getting the information recorded in the system.

The opportunity

The Asset Management division saw the opportunity to leverage both mobile capabilities and the work order system to streamline the gas valve operating check process and address many of the current challenges.

Asset Management and utilities staff collaborated to design an inspection process and user experience that enables staff to work smarter and more efficiently. Using the work order system’s mobile interface on laptops in the field, staff can now locate their work, complete their inspections and see progress in real-time. Supervisors can also monitor progress and have a clear picture of what has been completed, what is outstanding, and the results of the process.

Seeing the results

Staff feedback has been positive, they're no longer juggling as much paper, can complete their inspections, update the information in real-time and quickly see where to make their next stop. 

From an administrative perspective, since rollout has begun, dramatic improvements have been seen in inspection processing time. The entire process now takes a couple days instead of weeks or months.

Supervisors and engineers are also empowered to approach the inspection process in a more proactive way, able to monitor progress, prioritize critical valves for inspection and respond to any serious deficiencies in a more timely manner.

Looking forward and continuously improving

Having seen the benefits of their first mobile inspection process, asset management and utilities staff are already working toward going mobile with other gas and water inspection processes aiming to further optimize staff efficiency and provide a central view of all the inspection work outstanding in a specific area.

Did you know? e-Billing is more than just billing

Posted May 14, 2018

With the Tax and Utility e-Billing service you can access all of your tax and utility bills 24/7 through a single login. But e-Billing is more than just receiving your bill electronically. It can also help you better manage your accounts with features to help you monitor your gas and water consumption, and easily apply for residential stormwater credits.

Gas and water consumption

Want to understand more about your gas and water consumption patterns? You can view details of how your consumption compares to last month or last year through your e-Billing account.

 e-Billing Graph

Residential stormwater credits

Have a rain barrel? A rain garden? Implemented other stormwater best management practices? Easily apply for a residential stormwater credit online through your e-Billing account and start saving on your stormwater charges.

You can find both of these features and more in the Accounts section of e-Billing. Visit www.kitchener.ca/onlinebilling to learn more about the features of e-Billing and how to sign-up.

 

 Making the most of our streetlights

Posted April 20, 2018

In 2017, one of the first Digital Kitchener initiatives involved converting over 16,000 streetlights to LED fixtures. As part of this deployment, adaptive control sensors were also implemented linking all of the lights through a narrowband network. The new network provides the backbone required to connect, and support future smart city initiatives; which could include remote monitoring of parking services, noise, stormwater infrastructure and meter reading.

So, what's happening with the network now?

Since the implementation was completed in fall 2017, the city has been working closely with implementation partners to take advantage of the network’s new capabilities, including monitoring and optimizing the streetlights.

We're on it

Through the adaptive control network and supporting software, streetlights are reporting detailed messages to the system in real-time, allowing more proactive and accurate identification and resolution of issues before they’re even reported in the field.

And we're thinking long-term

The life of the new LED bulbs is up to 20 years. Like all LED bulbs, they begin brighter and experience light loss over time. To maximize the lifespan and efficiency of the bulbs and help reduce environmental impact and light pollution, the city developed and implemented a 20-year dimming schedule accounting for environmental and regulatory factors such as road size and design criteria.

But it's not just digital

While the dimming schedule is in place to help manage lighting across the city, the new LED streetlight fixtures themselves also provide options to optimize lighting in specific areas and reduce light pollution.

The new LED fixtures have full cut-off design which means the bulbs are located within the housing instead of below. This directs the light to the street and helps to eliminate uplighting and light trespass onto private property. The full cut-off design also supports the installation of special shields that can further direct lighting downward and way from neighbouring windows.

And it’s about more than just lighting our streets

The streetlight network supports detailed data collection on lighting performance and energy usage, which will unlock several benefits:

  • Further reduce energy costs by using more detailed energy usage data for electricity billing.
  • Evaluate the environmental impact of our streetlighting system.
  • Support data-driven decision-making for future projects and maintenance cycles.

Where do we go from here?

Connecting the city through the deployment of the adaptive control network opens the door to a smarter, more Digital Kitchener. We will continue to identify and explore opportunities to deploy connected sensors and leverage the network to improve our capacity to monitor city infrastructure, and use our data to make smarter, data-driven decisions and improve our ability to deliver efficient services.

Empowering bylaw enforcement officers with a mobile application

Posted March 26, 2018

While on patrol, bylaw enforcement officers encounter missing or damaged signs and need to make a judgement call about how the damage affects their ability to enforce related bylaws. For example, an officer recently found a No Parking sign with stickers obstructing the details of the time constraints for parking. This prompted him to question whether it was fair to issue a ticket to a vehicle parked nearby.  In the past, the officer would report the damaged sign through email chains between bylaw staff and the operations - roads & traffic division.

To resolve this complex, and often slow process, staff from several divisions worked together on a new solution that combines data from multiple city systems into one simple mobile application. The application combines GIS data with a comprehensive inventory of signs maintained by the asset management team. Now, bylaw enforcement officers can use a map to pinpoint issues and submit a request directly to the responsible team, which triggers a process to repair or replace the sign. Officers can also use the application to confirm that appropriate building and land access permits are in place, leveraging data from a building department system. Making this data available while on patrol reduces the need to approach people on a construction site to present relevant permits. This allows officers to move forward with their patrols and bylaw-compliant contractors and landowners to move forward with their project without interruption.

The application is rolling out to bylaw officers now, and they are already looking at how to add even more functionality. For example, trail bike officers are interested in using the application to leverage smartphone GPS capabilities to pinpoint the location of downed trees in parks and along trails, and communicate those details directly to the forestry team.

The Bylaw Reporting app is a great example of how Kitchener connects data, resources, and great ideas to build a smarter, more effective and efficient city. #DigitalKitchener

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