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Today, I sit at my desk reviewing my current projects and invariably I come back to the biggest project of my life: APWA Public Works Benchmarking. At face value, this sounds like a fairly basic scope of a project. “Let’s get information together to determine the standard benchmarks for the industry… “We can just send out a survey, or call some of our learned members, or perhaps consult all the quality data and materials APWA has developed over the past century.” That’s what I thought when I started this seemingly simple undertaking. Well fellow professionals, it is not simple…it is tough! It requires a lot of work and a lot of commitment to complete this project, which has now taken over two years.

Despite the time and toil, we stay committed to it because of the importance of the goal: to provide quality information to our members to help them manage and qualify the need for resources. To put it another way, the goal of this project is to set us up for success with our fellow public safety departments who learned this game decades ago.

The Leadership and Management Committee has been working for the past two years on developing benchmarks, basic benchmarks, to assist our members in justifying and managing their programs. These benchmarks have been developed with the other technical committees to include professionals from every aspect of Public Works. Why? Because we need them. We. Need. Them.

Our world continues to evolve into a system of ones and zeros with new technology, new ways of communicating, new needs, and new things to maintain. All the while, the infrastructure of the past remains. As we continue to build upon disciplines like asset management, we continue to need quality data and information to make sound and effective decisions—not only for ourselves, but our elected officials as well.

This year, the LMC will be finalizing this project by taking the measures we have developed with our fellow technical committee members and putting this to you to provide us data and information. This process will not be easy; it will require time and effort. But again, I say we need them. We need them so you can go back to your department and determine if you need to improve. We need them because public works needs relevant, trusted statistics to present to elected officials while building budgets. We need them because we are Public Works, the first to respond and the last to leave. Because of that, we need to be the best for our citizens. We hope you support this effort and give us your time and talent to make it a success—not only for the LMC, but for all of APWA.


Chas Jordan
Past member and chair, Leadership & Management Committee


Phoenix, Arizona has quickly become a leader in solid waste management due to their innovative approach.  Members of the APWA Solid Waste Management Committee had the opportunity to visit the Phoenix, Arizona 27th Street Transfer Station where they witnessed an operation that has become a leader in sustainability.  Waste to resource, a circular economy concept, is the approach Phoenix has truly embraced and implemented with waste management, and the approach is clearly seen within their waste management facilities.

Solid Waste Committee members explain the importance of Phoenix’s approach and innovation within the field of waste management.

When difficulties arise, we must embrace innovative solutions that change the norm and enhance our communities.  Phoenix exemplifies this mindset with their circular economy incubator and Reimagine Phoenix initiative. 
-Monica Bramble, Solid Waste Management Committee Chair, Northport, Florida.

The new age of thinking about the sustainability of our planet, so that we can ensure resources and the environment are well protected for future generations, has led to a more enlightened view of solid waste management coupled with the recognition that the solid waste management industry is an economic development force. 
-Joe Giudice, Solid Waste Management Committee Member, Phoenix, Arizona

The City of Phoenix is changing the way we handle waste for the benefit of our environment. They have found ways to turn palm fronds into animal feed, they are working to turn plastics #3 - #7 back into fuel, and innovation and creativity are at the core.  If we continue to think outside of the box, the world will surely be a better place than we found it.
-Samantha Yager, Solid Waste Management Committee Member, Columbia, South Carolina

Phoenix is catalyzing the development of domestic systems to recover challenging waste streams, such as plastics 3 through 7, rather than shipping these materials to Asian markets.   These new systems will increase the U.S. recycling rate and create local U.S. jobs while decreasing the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. 
-Karen Luken, Solid Waste Management Committee Member, Cincinnati, Ohio

Composting, recycling, and waste management is a critical part of maintaining public health and safety and helps to manage our environmental footprint from the items we use and consume in our daily lives.  What I saw new in Phoenix was the first steps of an organics management program that helps to manage waste regardless of the source. 
-Trent Tompkins, Solid Waste Management Committee Member, Edmonton, Alberta

Phoenix has turned a major challenge into an opportunity to capitalize.  Viewing waste materials as valuable resources is a product of policy changes, a dedicated management approach, and viewing disposal challenges as opportunities for innovation.  Taking municipal, personal, and commercial waste and turning it into products that can be sold or used by the city creates a circular economy to serve the public more efficiently putting Phoenix in a more advantageous position as the waste management landscape continues to change. 


Finished compost made from parks and landscape clippings as well as food scraps at the Phoenix, Arizona 27th Avenue Compost Facility.



By the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI)


Drones, also known as unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), save time, money and even lives for public works agencies across the country. Drones can capture images and data in difficult-to-reach or dangerous places to make tasks such as inspections and mapping safer and more efficient.  

If you are thinking about incorporating a drone into your operations, here are the top 10 things you need to know before you fly.

1.You Must Follow the FAA’s “Part 107” Regulation

If you want to fly your drone for commercial or civil government purposes, you must follow Part 107 of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations, also known as the Small UAS Rule. This rule went into effect on August 29, 2016. Under Part 107, to fly a drone you must be at least 16 years old, you must hold a remote pilot certificate or be under the direct supervision of someone with a remote pilot certificate, and you must complete a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) background check.

2.You Have to Pass a Knowledge Test

To receive a remote pilot certificate, you must pass a Knowledge Test. They are administered at FAA-approved Knowledge Testing Centers. More information about the Knowledge Test and the nearest testing location to you can be found on the FAA website.

3.Your Drone Must Weigh Less Than 55 Pounds

According to current FAA regulations, your drone must weigh less than 55 pounds to fly under Part 107. Heavier aircraft require specific permission from the FAA.

4.You Can Only Fly During Daylight Hours

As it stands, operations are only permitted during daylight hours. That means if it is after dark, you cannot fly.

5.You Can Only Fly Up to 400 Feet

The maximum flight altitude permitted by the FAA under Part 107 is 400 feet above ground level.

6.You Can Only Fly in Authorized Airspace

Drone pilots planning to fly under 400 feet in controlled airspace around airports must receive an airspace authorization from the FAA before they fly. The Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) is a collaboration between the FAA and the drone industry that provides near real-time authorization for Part 107 pilots and recreational flyers. LAANC is available at approximately 400 air traffic facilities covering about 600 airports.

7.You Must Always Operate a Drone Within Visual Line of Sight

When you are operating your drone, make sure it is always within your visual line of sight and, of course, below 400 feet.

8.You Must Register Your Drone with the FAA

Commercial and civil operators are required to register each of their drones with the FAA. The registration costs five dollars per aircraft and is valid for three years. Once you register your drone, you must label it with your registration number. More information on how to register your drone can be found on the FAA website.

9.You Can Fly Beyond the Rule with a Waiver

If you want to fly beyond what is allowed under Part 107, you must receive a waiver. A Part 107 waiver is an official document issued by the FAA which allows drone pilots to deviate from certain rules under Part 107 by demonstrating they can still fly safely using alternative methods. Some examples of operations that are subject to a waiver are flying from a moving vehicle, flying at night, flying beyond your ability to clearly determine your drone’s orientation with unaided vision, flying multiple drones and flying over people.

10.Certification Sets You Apart from Other Drone Operators

Once you have your remote pilot certificate, you can set your career apart from others operating drones for public works by earning a Trusted Operator professional certification from the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI). The AUVSI Trusted Operator Program (TOP) provides you with a higher level of demonstrated knowledge, flight proficiency, safety and risk management practices that will be valued by employers and customers, a competitive advantage when it comes to negotiating salaries/rates. To learn more about how to become an AUVSI TOP Operator, visit

Incorporating a drone into your operations can provide improved efficiency and safety and help your public works agency stand out from others. Know Before You Fly is an education campaign founded by AUVSI and the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) in partnership with the FAA to educate prospective users about the safe and responsible drone operations. For more information on what you need to know before you fly, or for your agency to become an official supporter of the Know Before You Fly education campaign, visit


Tom McMahon | Senior VP of Advocacy and Government Relations 
Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International



It is hard to effectively prepare for new technology.  What do you need to know?  How will you use the technology?  How will you know if you are actually prepared for the technology?  Even using the correct term for a piece of technology can be challenging.  What one person may call a drone another person may call a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) and another an RPA (remotely piloted aircraft).

Public works seems to be settled on using UAV, but there is much more to learn about this newly adopted piece of flying technology.  UAVs will become a piece of public works equipment sooner than later; thank goodness training courses are becoming available across North America.

Beginner courses often include:

  • Explaining different models of UAV
  • Purchasing your new system
  • Safety guidelines
  • Pre-flight checklists

Online courses are available as well.  However, becoming an effective and responsible UAV pilot is more than watching an online tutorial and teaching yourself how to fly.  You wouldn’t attempt to operate a tub grinder, an asphalt recycler, or a water jetter without proper hands-on training-UAV training should be no different. 

In-depth UAV courses embrace concepts and experiences:

  • Responsibilities of the pilot
  • Air space
  • Aviation weather
  • Pre-flight inspections
  • Flying without GPS
  • Flying to simulate a bridge inspection

Photo courtesy of Brandon Parigo, UMKC Strategic Communications

APWA looked at the Unmanned Aircraft Training for Industrial Applications offered at the University of Missouri Kansas City (UMKC) to get an idea of what public works employees can look for and benefit from.  The course is designed to teach discretion and accountability by placing the students in uncomfortable real-life scenarios.

All public works employees will agree that operating expensive equipment comes with elevated responsibility.  Operating UAVs will surely follow that rule. 

What a public works employee should look for in a UAV course.

  • Who is teaching the course?
  • Is the course at the appropriate skill level?
  • Does the course provide experience that will translate to my line of work?
  • Will I have opportunities to get flying time?

Like all public works operators, UAV operators will be expected to know the equipment inside and out; know when the equipment is not operating correctly; and most importantly, know its limitations.    UAV courses can provide the foundation required to be a smart, responsible pilot.

Education and experience are the backbone to an effective equipment operator, and courses are now being offered to provide UAV pilots with the knowledge and experience to put UAVs on the front line of public works equipment. 

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