‘We felt called to do it’

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TCFD fireman nationally recognized for giving spirit

Before arriving at Dallas Fire-Rescue Station No. 43  the morning of Feb. 2, TCFD Battalion Chief Garrett Rice was told he’d be taking part in a documentary of sorts about fire services in general, in which he’d be speaking to the importance of firefighters living out their core values.

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TCFD Battalion Chief Garrett Rice, his wife, Jamie, and their six children sat down for a “documentary” filming moments before they realized the story was really about them.

That was until Sean Lee from the Dallas Cowboys walked through the door. As part of Ford Motor Co.’s “Go Further” campaign to acknowledge unsung heroes, Rice was actually there to receive recognition for the ways in which he represents the “ideals of the fire services and what firefighters stand for,” said his longtime friend Mark Combs, who nominated him for the honor. Combs is a captain with Dallas Fire-Rescue, and is on the team at Station No. 43, which was last year’s “Go Further” recipient.

Four years ago, Rice and his wife, Jamie, adopted not one but four children – an obvious act of love and compassion worthy of admiration. But don’t tell that to Rice.

“We don’t feel special but perhaps it’s a story that moves people, and shows a kindness that we all need to have toward adoption and children,” Rice said. “We felt called to do it. We’re a blessed family. Hopefully this recognition brings a spotlight to the need for foster and adoption families.”

The Rices already had two children, Aidan, who is now 14, and Jack, 10. “But Jamie came to me and said she wanted to adopt, perhaps to have a daughter, in particular,” Rice said. “I told her she was crazy but a couple months went by and one day I did some research and came to understand the need for adoption, especially large sibling groups and special needs. Once I saw the need it was easy to have a change of heart – to see that this was what we were being called to do.”

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Dallas Cowboy Sean Lee visits with the Rice family before unveiling an even bigger surprise than his appearance.

Working with Texas Child Protective Services, the Rices learned about four siblings in the El Paso area in need of a loving home. They sold his truck, bought a 12-passenger van, and made the drive to West Texas to meet the children. They spent about a day and a half with the kids getting to know each other a little and then broke the news that Garrett and Jamie would be their new parents.

A week later they were flown to D-FW. “It was really as simple as it sounds,” Rice said. In addition to Aidan and Jack, the Rice family grew pretty much overnight to include Eda, 13; Sean, 12; Mia, 11; and Lauren, 9.

The entire family was in attendance last Thursday at Station No. 43. Meeting Sean Lee was great but the real recognition came in the form of a brand new 2018 Ford Expedition.

“To see the new Expedition was amazing. It’s been almost a week but I’m still unable to process it,” Rice said. “It’ll be an improvement upon the ‘airport shuttle’ we’re driving now. I hardly feel worthy but the kids are worthy of enjoying a new ride with nicer styling and comfort.”

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TCFD Battalion Chief Garrett Rice and his family check out the new ride they will receive as part of Ford Motor Co.’s “Go Further” campaign honoring unsung heroes.

The presentation in Dallas was, in fact, filmed and made into a video available online featuring the new Ford vehicle, their partnership with the Dallas Cowboys and, this year, The Colony Fire Department.

“The adoption was our journey but if you met with members of my department, they’re all doing things just as special,” Rice said. “They’ve all given back to the community where they live and the greater fire services community. I’m proud to represent The Colony Fire Department, which is known nationally for being a department on the cutting edge of firefighting strategy and tactics. I think any of the guys could’ve been me. They all have a story to tell.”

Bugs and bubbles

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Wastewater treatment plant expansion well underway

Let’s be honest. It’s not pretty. We’d rather not talk about it. But there’s arguably no more vital a service the city provides its residents than the collection and treatment of wastewater.

Main Street Widening Project aside, Phase I of the city’s upgrades to the Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) on East Lake Highlands represents one of the biggest current construction projects in The Colony. Projected to cost $19.8 million, the project will increase the plant’s daily treatment capacity in order to keep up with all the growth taking place in the city.

In 2015, the plant treated approximately 1 billion gallons of wastewater. That’s up from 981 million in 2013. Its current daily capacity is 3.8 million gallons. By mandate of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, a municipality must begin design of plant expansion when it reaches 75 percent capacity. Construction must begin at 90 percent capacity.

Having recently met those milestones, construction on the plant began in early 2016. The WWTP expansion project budget consists of construction costs, engineering services during construction, project administration, and quality assurance and control.

“All of these different components come together to ensure success of the project,” said Evan Groeschel, Project Management Analyst for The Colony Public Works Department. “Obviously there’s a lot of moving parts. This is the biggest job I’ve worked on in the eight years I’ve been with the city.”

All of the city’s wastewater enters the facility through a main line before being funneled into two “trains” (A and B), for treatment. The expansion project consists of adding a third train (C) to the plant, which will increase capacity to 4.5 million gallons per day.

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Surrounded by the signs and supplies of major construction, an aeration basin and clarifier treats wastewater. It is one of two structures that make up trains A and B at the Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Each train has two main processes that treat and clean the water. One process is called aeration, in which air is infused into the wastewater in such a way that it enhances the ability of naturally-occurring microorganisms to break down contaminants.

“The aeration basin is where the biological process of breaking down oils and fats takes place,” said Albert Pardo, an on-site engineer for Carollo Engineering, the city’s design and project management contractor. “And the bubbles control the way the bugs work.”

The second process along the train happens in the clarifier, which is a mechanical means of sedimentation that “allows all the solids to come down before the water on top moves on to further treatment and then out into the lake,” Pardo said. (Click here for more detail about the entire treatment process.)

The two processes are combined into one structure for trains A and B, but they have been separated into two larger components for the new train. “It’s the same setup, just on a much bigger scale,” Pardo said. The train C basin, for example, is a massive concrete structure with a capacity of 1.5 million gallons and multiple compartments for specialized treatment.

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The new aeration basin will hold 1.5 million gallons and is compartmentalized for a variety of treatments.

In addition to the C train, enhancements to the overall facility in Phase I include a new splitter structure to help evenly distribute the flow to the three trains; modifications to the existing treatment trains; a new effluent meter system to measure what’s going out to the lake; and a new chemical backup treatment system in the event the biological system fails, said Daemeon Stovall, Chief Operator for the WWTP.

Not to mention all the excavation, electrical work and piping required to, eventually, integrate the new components into the system. To top it off, all of this construction is taking place in a facility that must maintain operational integrity 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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A new clarifier is being constructed alongside the new aeration basin. The two treatment components have been separated as part of the new train “C” at the Wastewater Treatment Plant.

“Our primary goal is maintaining treatment during the process in order to continue meeting the state’s requirements,” Stovall said. “If they have to shut down something for construction, we have to provide bypass systems. We can’t stop the wastewater from coming in. We can’t stop treatment. There is no acceptable limit of contamination the state will allow us to have.”

Safety and security is another big subject, Groeschel said. The plant has to stay secure at all times. Added construction traffic was a little disruptive, too, but they’ve adjusted to it. “Constant communication is the key so everyone knows what everyone is doing. That really mitigates a lot of risk with the operation,” he said.

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Project Management Analyst Evan Groeschel flips through one of the many large binders he keeps with information about the WWTP project.

Given the size and significance of the project, quality-control redundancies are built in. For example, all of the concrete poured is tested at two separate labs for strength and viability.

“Without those redundancies, you create a weak point – and it’s typically not something you can just fix down the road,” Groeschel said. “We have a responsibility to protect the investment our citizens are making in this facility. You can’t take even a little break in terms of ensuring quality-control standards are being met.”

Phase II of the WWTP expansion will extend the facility’s treatment capacity to 6.1 million gallons per day and take place when the city reaches buildout.

“It’s a good thing we’re doing this now because more and more new development is coming online every day,” Groeschel said. “This is all fueled by the city’s growth, both now and in the future.”

Rain, roads, and erosion

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Engineering Department ensures safe, reliable infrastructure

As Director of Engineering the past 14 years, Gordon Scruggs’ fingerprints are all over the city. The plans for every roadway and development project in The Colony run through his department for review.

While the word “engineering” may spring to mind images of schematics and complex mathematics, the bottom line is about ensuring safety and quality-control standards are met throughout the community.

“Our job is to basically oversee construction of all the city’s infrastructure – water, wastewater, storm drainage, and roadways,” Scruggs said. “We make sure all construction, including private development, is designed right, tested properly, constructed with the right materials, and inspected before being put in operation.”

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Director of Engineering Gordon Scruggs

Developers and contractors also must hire the right people to work on their site, such as electricians and plumbers qualified by the state. Again, ensuring public safety is the goal.

“Simply put, when you cross over a bridge driving down the road, you expect that structure to be built according to reasonable standards and that it’s not going to collapse as you drive over it,” Scruggs said.

Everyone on Scruggs’ staff has engineering degrees, and all but one are licensed professional engineers in Texas. Rather than hire full-time specialists, the department utilizes consultants as needed to help with specific areas of engineering expertise, especially when things get busy.

And busy is how it’s been for the past several years, what with all the economic and residential development taking place in the city. Scruggs credits the City Council for being proactive in the years before Grandscape became a household name in order to pave the way for all that’s here now and what’s still to come.

“The Council pushed to go forward with putting in all the infrastructure in advance, before we had all the development, so the development could come right in and blossom,” he said.

The conditions of roadways and their timelines for reconstruction are, of course, priorities also planned in advance. It may not seem like it now, but once the Main Street Widening Project is completed, the city’s transportation infrastructure will be in excellent shape, Scruggs said.

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Once the Main Street Widening Project is completed in late 2017, the city’s transportation infrastructure will be in good shape, said Gordon Scruggs, Director of Engineering for the City of The Colony.

“We’ve already widened Paige Road and Plano Parkway, and reconstructed North Colony and South Colony boulevards,” he said. “Memorial Drive has been extended and another phase of widening is underway. Soon that road will be four lanes from city limit to city limit. People may not remember but it used to terminate at Main Street to the west and dead-end at the eastern city limits before the underpass was built.”

Main Street reconstruction has been in the works for almost 20 years. The much-needed project was held up for a lack of funding until The Colony City Council and other impacted municipalities agreed to a memorandum of understanding allowing State Highway 121 to be reconstructed as a toll road. The Texas Department of Transportation, which manages state roadways like FM 423, then accepted a $3.2 billion bid from the North Texas Tollway Authority for the project. That money, along with some regional toll revenues in the years since, has paid for a significant portion of Main Street, as well as other regional roadway projects like the widening of I-35E between Carrollton and Denton.

“Without that money, it was estimated Main Street reconstruction wouldn’t even have been started until 2025,” Scruggs said. “And that would’ve just been the design phase. It would be nowhere close to where it is now. Instead, all of the paving could be completed by next summer, leaving just the sidewalks, sound walls, landscaping, and medians to be constructed.”

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Clover Valley Drive, shown here, is one of several streets scheduled for reconstruction as part of the city’s ongoing Residential Street Reconstruction project.

Of course, Main Street is not the only roadway project in The Colony. The city’s Engineering Department is more heavily involved in overseeing residential street reconstruction projects. In conjunction with feedback from residents, an independent engineering firm is contracted to continually assess roadways and help identify streets most in need of repairs – whether it be potholes, drainage problems, or simply a road reaching the end of its lifespan.

Once Main Street is finished, repairing Blair Oaks will likely be moved near the top of the list, Scruggs said. Unlike North Colony and Paige, which were reconstructed with 8-inch thick concrete designed to handle heavy traffic, Blair Oaks is only 6-inch concrete, the same as residential streets, and was built before the city updated its standards to require greater thickness on collector roads.

“Portions of the road have been reconstructed the past 15 years so it’s actually in pretty good shape overall,” Scruggs said. “But there are some bad spots that have gotten worse because of the increased traffic the past few years. It’ll be a fair amount of money. We’re working on an estimate for that project now in the hopes we can get it into the Capital Improvement Projects (CIP) budget for 2017-18 and be ready to go forward once we get the funding.”

Before coming to The Colony, Scruggs was the Flood Plain Administrator for the City of Grand Prairie. He draws heavily upon that experience in managing The Colony’s storm drainage and erosion control systems, which also fall under the purview of Engineering.

The good news is that the city’s flood plains were largely made into park space by Fox & Jacobs, the original developers of the city.

“We do have some undersized storm drains in the old areas but most don’t pose a significant hazard. We don’t have any house-flooding issues for the most part,” Scruggs said. “A whole lot of our parks are where the larger creeks are, like Bill Allen Park. It fills up with water during heavy rains but it doesn’t get into people’s homes.”

Coupled with their own observations, the Engineering Department relies on residents to help identify and monitor drainage hot spots, like the area around Fire Station No. 2 on North Colony and on Taylor Street near B.B. Owen Elementary School. Scruggs encourages residents to contact his department to share their concerns.

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The intersection of Taylor Street and Squires Drive, though dry in this photo, is a known hot-spot for drainage issues during heavy rains.

“We can’t be everywhere at once, especially when it’s raining hard, so we like to know what residents are seeing out there,” Scruggs said. “But we’re aware of the worst problems for the most part and will get to them as soon as we can.”

If minor repairs are required, Public Works can take care of the problem pretty quickly. “But if the cost is high and the work has to go through CIP and receive Council approval, then it will take longer and we explain that to the residents,” Scruggs said.

However, in extreme cases, funding can and will be approved early before a bad situation becomes worse. Such was the case in the Ridgepointe area a few years back when erosion along Office Creek was creeping into residents’ backyards. Erosion projects are prioritized based on the threat to homes, roads, and parks, in that order. Nearly all erosion control work falls under the CIP budget.

“Erosion is challenging because creeks are unpredictable. They can shift, meander, and erode pretty quickly,” Scruggs said. “And it’s not necessarily the big floods that do the most damage. We’re seeing an increase in the frequency of our storms because of climate change. Development of open spaces has also increased the flows by increasing the amount of pavement in the city. We’ve done some mitigating measures on Office Creek, for example, and we have an overall Master Plan in place designed to mitigate a lot of the potential problems.”

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Managing erosion along the city’s creek system, like what’s shown here at Bill Allen Park, is the responsibility of the city’s Engineering Department.

An example of well-planned drainage is at Grandscape, where the north side of the development drains underneath SH 121 into detention ponds which helps prevent water from running off too fast or all at once, mitigating problems downstream from the development.

Whether it’s roads, rain, or erosion, Scruggs said he rests easy knowing the city’s residents are in the hands of capable emergency-responders should a crisis arise and a City Council that has planned ahead in a way that has made his job that much easier.

“Once Main Street is reconstructed, our city is going to have a really good transportation system. I don’t worry a lot,” he said. “The City Council’s efforts to facilitate all of the economic development has also been a big bonus because in years past it was hard for residential tax dollars to provide the funding needed to maintain our roads, provide the infrastructure residents need, and to keep it safe so people are able to concentrate on other things in their lives.”

Scruggs recently announced his retirement, effective early next year. “It has been a privilege to serve and be a part of this community the past 14 years,” he said. “I’m very proud of the role I’ve been able to play in helping grow and maintain the city, and I look forward to many more great things happening in The Colony.”

Unsung hero

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IT staffer helps police identify suspect

It’s not everyday someone from the IT Department takes a role in helping justice be served, but that’s what happened this past summer during a high-profile investigation by The Colony Police Department.

In the aftermath of a shooting that took place on July 23, TCPD Criminal Investigations Division was on the clock working to identify a suspect. In their possession was a DVR with, presumably, surveillance camera footage from the street where the incident occurred. They just couldn’t get to its contents and they only had access to the hardware for a limited time.

In steps Colt Wight, Systems Analyst for the city’s IT Department. Wight was called in on a Sunday, the day after the incident, to lend a hand – not because he has a long history of working with video equipment but because he’s a known problem-solver.

“My director, Chris Vasquez, told me they needed help but couldn’t provide a lot of details,” Wight said. “When I arrived at PD headquarters that afternoon, they handed me a metal box. I knew nothing about that DVR system. All I knew was that I had to figure out a solution to access the video files quickly and effectively.”

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The Colony Police Department headquarters and jail at 5151 North Colony Blvd.

He started with the basics by analyzing every component. “This connects to that, which connects to this, and so forth,” Wight said. “It was trial and error at first but utilizing basic assumptions about similar systems I was able to develop a theorized procedure.”

Before long, he had the box hooked up to a monitor and was interfacing with the software but still couldn’t access the video because the files were all stored in the cloud. Wight had to connect the box to the internet while at the same time ensuring it wasn’t potentially compromising the city’s secure networks.

“Part of my job is to make sure all of the information we have as a city is kept safe from both accidental and malicious circumstances,” Wight said.

It wasn’t too long before he had the whole system up and running, with access to options, live view, admin features, etc. But there was still one hurdle to jump before they could see the recorded files.

“It asked me for login credentials,” Wight said, adding that PD at the time had no way to get them from the owner of the system. “Plus, there were only hours left to complete the task.”

So, Wight put his problem-solving skills to further use and eventually found a way around it. Four hours after he arrived (and with multiple police officers looking over his shoulder the whole time) they were finally getting to see the footage of the incident they needed.

“The thing is, witnesses to the crime had identified an individual as the alleged shooter,” he said. “But the video clearly showed it was someone else.”

Police instantly mobilized, Wight said, and would later that night take custody of the new suspect.

Wight stuck around PD another couple hours to help download the footage to a flash drive and capture screenshots for later use in court. In the days that followed, The Colony Police CID Lt. Brent Brown presented Wight with a commendation in recognition of service to the department above-and-beyond.

Wight said he was glad to help our Police Department apprehend the right suspect and advance the process toward achieving justice for the victim’s family.

“It makes you feel good knowing that you got to do something that mattered,” he said. “You feel like everything is worthwhile in life when you get to do something important like that. That must be what the police and firefighters feel like on a daily basis.

“For me, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. You don’t expect to get up in the morning and help bring justice to someone.”

Round-the-clock commitment

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Fleet Services keeps city vehicles on the go

The Colony Fleet Services Department is a division of Public Works overseen by Director Leo Lavender. Fleet Services is responsible for helping to acquire and maintain all of the vehicles utilized by city employees.

Yes, all of them. That’s every police car and fire truck, street sweeper and backhoe, passenger van and riding lawn mower. That’s 140 vehicles, ranging from light to heavy duty; and another 250 pieces of equipment such as concrete saws, rollers, and generators, to name a few.

Maintenance work is steady at the shop, located at 1 Harris Plaza. Repairs tend to come in waves, said Sam Marin, Fleet Services manager. Whatever the workflow may be, safety is the No. 1 priority when you’re dealing with large pieces of heavy machinery all day every day.

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Fleet Services is located at 1 Harris Plaza, next to the Public Works headquarters, Animal Services facility, and the new Pawsome Playground Dog Park. Here, technicians perform maintenance and repairs on hundreds of pieces of equipment

“Since I started here five years ago, we haven’t had one accident or incident of any kind,” Marin said. “Safety is our main priority, not just in the shop but also with the vehicles we return to service. Check it twice. Check it three times. Whatever it takes to do the job right.”

Marin’s team is comprised of Lead Technician Dwight Cox, Emergency Vehicle Technician Brandon Poe, and Technicians Christopher Gagne and James Magana. The majority of their work is preventative maintenance, or PM for short.

“Preventative maintenance is mostly in-and-out. We find and fix minor leaks and loose parts before they become bigger problems. Our service takes an hour or two depending on the vehicle. We don’t delay,” Marin said. “Major repairs can, of course, take longer but the PM should minimize the need for anything major. We have a very low return rate for repairs, which makes me proud.”

The PM schedule is based around the needs of each individual vehicle, such as mileage and/or hours of service. They perform an average of about 50 preventative maintenance checks per month.

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The back lot of Fleet Services is where vehicles are parked when either awaiting service (to the right of the light pole) or when ready to return to service (to the left of the pole).

Whether it’s a PM or repairs, technicians move quickly, without sacrificing quality, because they understand that city staff needs the equipment back on the street as soon as possible. “Most of the departments don’t have equipment in reserve so when a vehicle is offline for service we have to turn it around quickly,” Marin said.

In other words, firefighters being without their fire truck is not an option. “As a central point for providing quality service that keeps the city up and running, our responsibility is extremely high,” Marin said.

Despite a rigorous maintenance schedule, sometimes vehicles still break down. Repairs for certain kinds of equipment, like a recently damaged skid-steer with busted axles, must be outsourced because it’s more cost efficient.

“In-house repairs would require a couple weeks of work, which disrupts our PM schedule, requires trips to acquire expensive parts, and ultimately costs the city more money than sending it to the manufacturer for the repairs,” Marin said.

Road calls are another big part of their job. Technicians are on-call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to assist any department with roadside emergencies. Many of the city’s vehicles are in operation around the clock. If a police officer, firefighter, or public works staffer breaks down at 1 a.m., Fleet Services responds immediately.

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Fleet Services utilizes its own diesel fueling station for both convenience and cost-savings.

Case in point. The Colony Police Department recently required quick turnaround for transport of a suspect from a hospital to the city jail. In order to ensure safe transport, an ambulance was required, but not an in-service vehicle that might be needed for a medical emergency by the fire department. Fleet techs hit the ground running prior to regular hours that morning to quickly put a reserve ambulance with a malfunctioning AC unit back into service.

Fire and police equipment often have special needs, too, which is why the city has an Emergency Vehicle Technician on staff, Brandon Poe. He maintains certification to work on the unique components of emergency vehicles so that they meet national standards of operational efficiency. An ambulance may have a universal chasse but it also has multiple AC units and specialized air-flow/recirculation components, for example.

“An ambulance has special tires and exhaust systems, too, but the main thing is ventilation and making sure the vacuum pumps and oxygen systems work,” Poe said. “Ladder trucks also have complex water pumps, line voltage, and tons of specialized electrical components.”

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Fleet Services Manager Sam Marin.

Despite their best efforts, nothing lasts forever. City vehicles traverse the same roadways under construction as everyone else, only more so. Some are running nearly 24 hours a day and have high mileage.

“At some point equipment gets replaced but if we can keep it running then we’re providing service and saving money at the same time,” Marin said.

An additional service provided by the Fleet Services Department is serving as a drop-off point for residents wishing to dispose of old tires. Residents may drop off tires between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday at the facility.

Helping keep the city beautified by accepting old tires is a definitive service for residents but Marin hopes they see how everything the Fleet Services Department does is geared toward enhancing the quality of life in the city.

“The people in this city are fantastic. This community deserves the best,” he said. “From city management down to every department director and staff member, we all share the same goals – we all want to do the best.”

Proactive versus reactive

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IT tasked with keeping your city on the cutting edge

Most every business has an IT department. You know, the people you call when you get a Blue Screen of Death or the printer breaks down. They’re the offensive linemen of business – coworkers whose vigilance maintaining your network too often goes unnoticed because you typically only interact with them when something has gone wrong.

The same can be said of the city’s Information Technology Department, led by Director Chris Vasquez, who took over the department in December 2015. He and his staff embrace their role as the backbone of day-to-day city operations.

“Our job is to make city staff more efficient through the use of technology,” Vasquez said. “In other words, we support the community by supporting the many services being provided.”

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City of The Colony Information Technology Director Chris Vasquez. ‘Whatever the project or problem may be, our goal is to be proactive versus reactive. That’s the key to success in the world of information technology,’ he said.

In a world where technology changes fast, the main challenge for IT departments is often simply keeping up. Vasquez said his primary goal upon joining The Colony has been to upgrade much of the city’s IT hardware and network infrastructure.

“Right now, a lot of the technology we have in place is very old – both hardware and software,” he said. “We’re going through a process now of exchanging a lot of the old hardware with new stuff.”

The upgrades will improve productivity across the board but starts with a few key areas that are most critical. For example, Vasquez said they’re working to improve the network pathways between the various city facilities and the hub at City Hall.

“Some of the pathways right now use very old equipment, resulting in slow or non-existent network connections, depending on what staff is trying to do,” he said. “With the improvements, you could equate it to construction of a six-lane, high-speed data highway over a dial-up two-lane road. This will be something we’re working on for quite some time.”

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This jumble of colored cables represents components of a fairly typically data network. It makes sense to the IT staff. To the rest of us, it’s a jumble of colored cable.

A large-scale project of that nature has a lot of little components, Vasquez said. In order to prepare for the new equipment, the department must first assess and inventory existing resources.

“For example, we have to start by reorganizing the main data center. There’s a lot of equipment we’re not using that’s taking up space,” Vasquez said. “We need to clean all that up and make space for the new equipment, and get all the cabling organized so we’ll have an easier time troubleshooting both now and when the new equipment is installed.”

Keeping up with technology is a common challenge in every industry and every city, Vasquez said, adding that he went through a similar overhaul recently in his previous role as IT director for the City of Huntsville, Texas.

“Once we get it all changed it out and stabilized, then we can focus our resources more on how we can make things better for staff and thereby our residents, instead of spending time fixing things,” he said.

Another IT trend has been moving operations to the cloud. “That tends to make things easier for IT staff and staff in general,” Vasquez said.

IT recently completed a six-month project to move the city’s email system to the cloud, which frees up internal resources from having to maintain and secure a bulky email server. Vasquez said the transition went fairly smooth.

“The only issues we had were external components, such as scanning, voicemail, and faxing to email,” Vasquez said. “But we worked diligently to get those functions restored as soon as possible.”

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Rows of hardware, mostly servers, comprise the City of The Colony’s IT network. Staff have been working hard to upgrade the hardware and improve connectivity throughout the city’s facilities.

During installation of the new backup power generator at City Hall, maintaining network continuity and data security during the transition were huge priorities for all parties involved – especially IT. The citywide internet connection goes through City Hall, so if power goes out there, everyone loses the connection.

“There was a lot of concern that if we shut off power to the building, the older equipment wouldn’t reboot,” Vasquez said. “But we came up with a game plan and staggered the shutdown during the transition. We kept things running for several hours on a large backup battery. Luckily, after power was restored, everything came back up. It went pretty smooth, and it’s saved us a couple times already.”

Potential future projects include assessments and upgrades to the city’s audio/video technology, and partnering with the Communications Department to develop a new city website.

“Our priority for that project would be to ensure the new website is easy for staff to update so there won’t be any unnecessary delays in distributing important news and information to residents,” Vasquez said. “Again, it all goes back to improving efficiency. The more we can help staff get things done faster, the more it helps the city as a whole.

“Whatever the project or problem may be, our goal is to be proactive versus reactive. That’s the key to success in the world of information technology.”

‘When do we start spraying?’

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City’s annual mosquito control program in full swing

Bad news first: As the case has been in recent years, heavy spring rains and a mild winter have made for a mosquito-breeding perfect storm.

But the good news is that the City of The Colony has one of the region’s longest-standing and well-documented mosquito control programs. When representatives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention arrived in North Texas during the West Nile Virus outbreak of 2012, The Colony was one of only a handful of cities able to provide them with useful data as the city had been trapping and testing mosquitoes since 2006.

Community Services Director Pam Nelson oversees the city’s mosquito control program. While there’s been a great deal of media buzz about the dangers of Zika virus, Nelson said the city’s program continues to focus on disease-prevention by combating the spread of West Nile mosquitoes.

“The primary objective of our mosquito-control program is to identify and eliminate breeding sites,” Nelson said. “A wide variety of employees from multiple departments, including Public Works, Parks and Recreation, and Community Image, routinely patrol the city to keep an eye out for potential breeding sites on public property.”

This is in addition to already monitoring known hot-spots for mosquitoes. In conjunction with its contractor, Municipal Mosquito, the city conducts weekly testing from May to October each year at eight rotating sites around the city.

“Most issues, however, are on private property,” Nelson said. “It’s the responsibility of our residents to protect themselves and help curb the mosquito population by letting us know about problem spots and by draining standing water on their property.”

Standing water

This ditch is typical of the water that accumulates during heavy rains. Parks staff treat these pools with mosquito dunks.

Nelson said hot-spots are always changing, however. She encourages residents to contact the city at 972-624-3160 to report areas of concern, be it on public or private property. The city has a web-form accessible to all employees so they can take down the relevant information, which is automatically funneled to mosquito-control staff.

Patrick Prather, chief entomologist for Municipal Mosquito, echoed Nelson’s concerns about all signs indicating an early spring and an early start to the mosquito season. Some municipalities in D-FW have already trapped mosquitoes found positive for West Nile.

The first question he gets this time of year is always the same: When do we start spraying?

“The answer is, when there’s a positive test for disease in a mosquito,” he said. “The program we have here in The Colony is a disease-based response program, which includes surveillance, larvaciding, and judicious adulticiding when required.”

In 2015, there were 16 batches of mosquitoes that tested positive for West Nile virus in The Colony. There were six in 2014 and one in 2013. Testing so far this season has yielded negative results.

One might think the city’s proximity to Lewisville Lake would be a problem but mosquitoes cannot breed in water sources full of predators (aka fish) that consume their eggs, Prather said. The main concerns are standing pools of water: low-lying areas, flower pots, old tires, trash cans – anything where rain water, irrigation runoff, etc., can accumulate.

The mosquito species responsible for spreading West Nile is culex quinquefasciatus, a small brown- or tan-colored insect. The culex mosquito lays its eggs in a raft on the water’s surface. They breed asynchronously, meaning their population will fluctuate on a daily basis depending on the availability of breeding sites, Prather said.

culex-quinquefasciatus

The culex quinquefasciatus mosquito is brown in color and responsible for spreading West Nile virus.

Male mosquitoes feed on flowers but female mosquitoes require protein from a blood meal for egg development. According to Prather, the culex is known to travel up to a mile’s radius from its breeding site to find its blood meal. Birds and small mammals are their preferred choices. The reason they are more active at dawn and dusk is because that’s when birds come and go from their nests.

Birds are carriers of both West Nile virus and St. Louis Encephalitis. Mosquitoes feed on the birds, and then pass the diseases on to humans. Unlike Zika virus, which can be passed on through sexual transmission, humans cannot pass West Nile on to other humans except in very rare cases.

Mosquito eggs are so well-protected they cannot be killed by chemicals – only controlled by eliminating breeding sources. Mosquito larvae and pupa, however, are vulnerable to larvacide. Adult mosquitoes are also treatable, again, when disease has been confirmed in an area of the population.

Before the spread of Zika virus to Texas, any species other than culex, such as aedes aegypti, was considered a “nuisance mosquito.” But now we know the aedes species is a carrier for Zika. Unlike culex, the aedes is aggressive any time of day and typically bites below thigh level, Prather said. The aedes is also small but typically dark-colored with white spots or stripes.

Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are also known to carry Chikungaya and Dengue fever. They will only travel about 200-500 feet for a blood meal, which includes humans. They do not require nutrient-rich water for breeding but rather can lay eggs in any kind of container home to organic matter, such as trash cans.

Aedes_aegypti

The aedes aegypti mosquito is dark with white spots, and can be a carrier of Zika virus.

While the science is still catching up, Zika is believed to be primarily dangerous for pregnant women given the reported links between Zika and certain birth defects. However, while there have been two cases of travel-associated Zika virus in Denton County, there have been no local cases of Zika transmission.

The Colony’s current mosquito-control program includes trapping of aedes mosquitoes but not for testing of Zika – only for determining a baseline of population data. The program includes rigorous trapping and testing of culex mosquitoes for West Nile.

Regardless of the mosquito type, residents are encouraged to follow the “Four Ds” of mosquito-borne disease prevention:

  • Dress to protect: Wear long sleeves and long pants.
  • Dusk, daytime and dawn: Protect yourself against mosquitoes anytime you are outside.
  • Defend: Wear insect repellent with DEET, Picaridin, Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus or an effective alternative.
  • Drain standing water: Eliminate any water that stands for longer than five days or treat water with larvacide according to the label.

For additional information regarding mosquitoes and the City’s mosquito treatment plan, contact Nelson at 972-624-3958, Chemical Applicator Shane Bartel at 469-853-1222, or visit the city’s mosquito control page.

To report standing water on private property, please call 972-624-3160, and be sure to provide an address associated with the issue if leaving a message.