Mining is a way of life in the City of Safford, Arizona. The Safford Mine, an open-pit copper mine, lies just eight miles north of the city, providing a means of employment for residents and enabling continued growth of this close-knit community.
Safford maintains the feel of a small mining town, but their customers expect big things of the city’s utility department. And the department’s team takes pride in delivering on these expectations.
“We’re a self-sufficient operation and we do everything in-house, but we wouldn’t have it any other way,” said Julie Bryce, former business services AMI administrator, City of Safford.
Going big with AMI
With all utility operations—including water, gas and electricity—falling under the City of Safford’s small utility team, efficiency and customer service are top priorities. So, when the city identified an opportunity to create efficiencies in their water metering capabilities, they seized it.
“Our infrastructure was old and aging badly,” said Bryce. “This included all of our utilities, but it was especially true of our water infrastructure.”
Making the transition
The city sought to establish a smart utility network that included Sensus iPERL® residential water meters and the two-way FlexNet® communication system. Now, they can more accurately measure consumption and access near real-time data that helps to proactively alert customers to any potential issues.
The city’s water utility team embraced the transition with a hands-on attitude. They took advantage of resources within Sensus and the Sensus Partner and Advisor Network (SPAN), a group of customers that exchange ideas, solve challenges and provide valuable feedback on product development and relationship management.
“The networking and knowledge we gain from SPAN is invaluable,” said Bryce. “There’s always someone who’s been there, done that and fixed any issue you might be facing. The SPAN group is one of the best resources that Sensus provides to empower its users. When a company is willing to put in the resources to allow its users to express concerns, offer product ideas and implement them based on customer feedback, you have a great partnership.”
“Informing customers of leaks used to take 30 or 40 days. Now we can do it within a couple of days, sometimes even a couple of hours.”
– Lorie Pedregon, Lead Business Services Representative, City of Safford
Reaping the benefits
Safford began seeing results immediately following deployment with customers appreciating their ability to report leaks faster.
“We do yearly leak adjustments where we have to adjust customers’ water bills due to leaks that went undetected,” said Lorie Pedregon, lead business services representative, City of Safford. “With our new system, we reduced these adjustment costs by 40 percent based on the data we received.”
The ability to report leaks faster proved a huge benefit to customers.
“Informing customers of leaks used to take 30 or 40 days,” said Pedregon. “Now we can do it within a couple of days, sometimes even a couple of hours. Our customer service has greatly improved thanks to the Sensus technology alerting us to leaks or other potential issues.”
Bryce added, “By keeping customers informed, it reminds them that you really are there to provide the best experience and public service you can to help them.”
The new system also resulted in big changes to Safford’s field technicians who were previously tasked with manually gathering meter data.
“Our field crew has grown from meter readers to AMI specialists,” said Pedregon. “We’re not rolling trucks out anymore to gather meter data and we have managed to reduce our field budget by $8,000 a year, which is huge for a small utility.”
Bryce also suggested the SPAN group gave valuable insight for staff training. “When you network with your peers in the industry who know how you feel and deal with similar issues, the conversations become more productive and not so frightening,” said Bryce. “The guidance was vital to our success in transitioning employees into new roles with clearly defined objectives.”
Lessons for the future
Safford’s team is now thinking even bigger about ways to leverage their investment and better serve customers.
“It’s forced us to think outside the box,” said Pedregon. “Now we’re asking, ‘what else can we improve with this technology?’”
Next on the horizon for Safford is deploying Sensus Analytics, which will provide more in-depth analysis of their water data to continue operational improvements and enhanced customer service.
“Don’t be scared to ask questions,” said Bryce. “Between the help we received from Sensus and the SPAN group in our initial deployment, we were able to gain a wealth of knowledge that we otherwise would not have had. We know they’ll be there for us in anything we do.”
Create efficiencies in water meter reading and reporting
Create a smart utility network with technologies from Sensus
Improve leak detection capabilities and reduce associated costs