FOG Program Cuts Through the Fat

Seattle takes FOG program online, improving remote access and customer compliance.

FOG Program Cuts Through the Fat

Linko is a purpose-built, cloud-native FOG management platform that simplifies administration, reduces manual tasks and speeds up program delivery.

Interested in Inspection?

Get Inspection articles, news and videos right in your inbox! Sign up now.

Inspection + Get Alerts

With more than 5,000 restaurants and food service establishments in Seattle, the city’s Fats, Oils and Grease program is vital to protecting community health and keeping sewers flowing. Preventing unlawful discharges from entering the system plays a big part in its mission.

With a team of five inspectors and one program supervisor responsible for the large program, Gary Christiansen, program supervisor for the Wastewater Source Control Program at Seattle Public Utilities, needs to optimize efficiency wherever possible.

“The reality is our small team is not able to inspect every FSE immediately; our success depends on identifying problem areas and prioritizing establishments that require the greatest attention. Our overarching goal is to create a data-driven vs. an effort-driven program in order to serve the city of Seattle in a cost-effective and efficient manner,” Christiansen says.

Existing programs

For a little over 15 years, the city has used Linko (part of Aquatic Informatics), which is a software program that tracks data from FSEs, as well as Esri ArcGIS to map sewer lines and connections and identify hot spots. The problem was these two systems were not integrated. If they were, the city could use its GIS system to identify which FSEs were discharging to which service connections and then cross-reference that data with its FOG data.

“We realized if we connected these two software solutions, we would be able to better manage our FOG program, automate tasks that were time consuming and reduce human error in the process,” Christiansen says.

Software integration

Wastewater Source Control Program staff worked closely with the Food Safety Division of the County Health Department to maintain an accurate listing of restaurants. By working with the permitting agency, Seattle Public Utilities was able to set up regularly scheduled automated reports containing the business information about active restaurants and permits that are newly issued and recently closed, enabling it to keep its database of 5,000-plus restaurants up to date. Once the permit data is received, it is married with the results of sanitary sewer overflow reports, maintenance data and CCTV findings and uploaded into the GIS.

To bring the GIS data into the Linko platform, Wastewater Source Control Program staff contracted Linko to design and build an import feature to allow for the integration of data between the GIS and the FOG software. The integration process took a few months to complete.

Now when the city receives the automated reports, data is entered and categorized by the GIS system. The team is then able — at the click of a button — to send information from ArcGIS directly to the Linko database. Previously, this information would have been entered manually and updated annually based on a list of several hundred new facilities.

Integrating the two major software systems allowed certain data elements to be shared between the systems. The FOG software can now seamlessly schedule initial inspections for new facilities — and ensure new businesses are not missed.

“By consolidating the GIS and other data into the FOG software, we can get a much more accurate picture of the network, connections to FSEs and the condition of actual sewers, which helps us pinpoint problem areas and reduce problems overall,” Christiansen says.

Digitized entry

With the two programs finally working well together, Christiansen had a vision to further improve data accessibility and streamline processes by taking the whole program online.

“Cloud-native applications enable our inspectors to access all our facility information from the office, in the field and — in the current COVID-19 work environment — from their homes utilizing a laptop or tablet, even their smartphones,” Christiansen says. “We’ve already experienced the efficiencies of integrating previously siloed data between the GIS and FOG system. The first step to taking the program online was to optimize the digitization of processes. Next, we intend to move to online maintenance reporting.”

The natural extension for the city was adding Linko Remote Inspector, a software tool that digitizes inspection data and standardizes the data gathered during inspections.

“Prior to this, we had paper forms that didn’t have a lot of direct questions and were very text-based,” Christiansen says. “The inspector would write his or her findings and what he thought was relevant onto these paper-based forms, with no specific direction to ensure basic information was captured.”

Often, this led to many more questions by the FSE, and corrective actions would require multiple follow-ups before the action could be resolved.

In addition, when hot spots occurred, there were no warnings or indications because no data was available for analysis. Instead, as hot spots were identified, the city would send out inspectors — a reactive approach that meant no preventive steps were being taken. The result was a backlog of inspections.

The smart forms introduced with Remote Inspector allow inspectors to enter findings into their mobile device directly from the field. By creating standardized digital forms, the city can now quickly and easily specify what data must be collected and build a baseline for better analysis.

Streamlined assessment

The second instrumental form or process to be digitized was a facility’s FOG risk assessment, which is a ranking based on key factors.

“If we had an SSO on a mainline, that line was given a unique number if SSO and CCTV crews had identified grease,” says Angelique Hockett, a city FOG inspector who established the Risk Priority Assessment ranking for the FOG program. “I would then join the lines in the GIS software, and a summation of the various criteria would dictate a hot spot category per facility. There are 37 different ranking numbers, organized to fit into six hot spot categories.”

From there, Hockett would manually assign inspections for each facility using data from the asset management software and its basic information.

Armed with the new smart forms in Remote Inspector, the inspector completes a questionnaire with information observed during the inspection. The form then calculates the results, assigning points to determine the facility’s FOG discharge risk. The smart form combines the FOG discharge risk with the hot spot category and automatically assigns an overall FOG risk value. Based on the FOG risk value, the software sets a tailored inspection schedule for the facility, allowing Seattle Public Utilities to schedule resources in sync with actual need out in the field. So establishments that require more touches are scheduled as such, and those needing less are scheduled accordingly as well.

“Digitizing this process has improved accuracy and enables us to take preventive action before hot spots occur,” Hockett says.

Moving online

With digitized processes in place, moving the city’s FOG program online brought several advantages. Being accessible through a browser, it can now be used on any connected mobile device or computer. The look, feel and function of the software remains consistent, making it easier to use and access the entire suite of FOG software from anywhere.

“The uniformity that comes along with a cloud application makes it a lot more efficient and gives us flexibility for the future as the city grows,” Christiansen says.

Fostering partnerships

Once an inspection has been completed, inspectors can easily email a copy of the completed inspection form to the FSE. Previously, the recipient of the inspection report received a copy of the paper form, along with an inspector’s business card. The form included handwritten comments about what corrective actions needed to be taken, which weren’t always clearly stated and required subsequent follow-up visits to ensure action was taken.

Now, a report is emailed directly to the FSE with specific corrective action information. From a compliance perspective, this helps ensure all parties clearly understand the city’s expectations. This has helped the city dramatically improve relationships with FSEs. The city can now receive an email with pictures when something is cleaned or corrected, so staff don’t need to go back to the establishment to verify the problem is fixed.

“Since deploying the FOG management software, we have been able to increase the number of our inspections by 316% over four years,” Christiansen says. “The new program has improved work processes like route planning and reduced admin time by bringing everything online. We’re able to visit more sites, which is a good thing for Seattle’s sewer system.” 


Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.