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Episode 1 with Alando Chappell

Posted By MI-AWWA, Friday, March 9, 2018

 

Episode 1

Alando Chappel



[0:00:00]

Announcer:    Welcome to the Talking on Water podcast. A service provided by the Michigan section of the American Water Works Association. This podcast offers insight and useful career information from Michigan water professionals. Now, here's your host, Pat Staskiewicz.

Pat:    Welcome to Talking on Water where we offer insights and useful career information for Michigan water professionals. I'm your host, Pat Staskiewicz. For our first podcast, we welcome Alando Chappell from the Lansing Board of Water & Light. In this episode, Alando will describe some of the opportunities he's had in the distribution field as well as his perspective on diversity. I'm here today with Alando Chappell. He is a manager of water and steam distribution for the Lansing Board of Water & Light. Alando, welcome.

Alando:    Thank you very much. I appreciate it.

Pat:    So, you've got quite a diverse title there with steam and water. Can you tell me a little bit about your job?

Alando:    Well, I’m a manager of water and steam distribution, so a little bit different for the board. We have a manager that's over water production and then we have a manager that’s over the distribution side when the water leaves the plant. So, I'm the manager of the distribution side. So, the board decided to also put the responsibility of steam on me as well. So, I actually manage 2 utilities in that respect.

Pat:    Oh, that’s interesting. Not many cities have steam. Do they or is that typical?

Alando:    It’s not as typical as you might think. We actually have about 200 steam customers. They’re primarily in a downtown area, so some of the big names. GM, obviously State of Michigan are some of our largest customers in this primarily downtown area.

Pat:    So, Alando, how did you end up in that wonderful capital of Lansing?

Alando:    Well, I was born and raised here in this beautiful city of Lansing, Michigan. I spent all my life here. I graduated from Sexton High School. I then went off to college out of state for a bit. At the Lansing Board of Water & Light, I started in 2001. So, when I first graduated high school, I went to DeVry University in Addison, Illinois. I did the typical 1 year college kid type trying to figure out life situation. I came back home. I was looking for something primarily local and there was, you know, the big 3 what we call it. The GM. You know, work in a factory, the State of Michigan, or the Board of Water & Light. Those are like your options here in Lansing. I was fortunate enough to get hired in at the Board of Water & Light and that was the start of my career. I started in when I first hired in as a coal sweeper for the Lansing Board of Water & Light. And through that experience, I’ve seen the opportunity that the board presented. So, I went into constructive services for about a year and then I got really interested in electricity. So, I actually went to school and became a journey line worker. And so, I was the guy when the power and the light went out— I was the guy that put it back on. So, I did that about 8 years. Within that stint, I was very successful in completing that job and I went into management at the electric level. So, I also got actively involved in multiple boards from around the community. Lansing Chamber of Commerce, I’m an ambassador currently for them. The Boys and Girls Club of Lansing, I'm on their board as well as I’m chair of the diversity committee for the AWWA of Michigan section. Our diversity group for the Michigan section, one of the things that we wanna value is we wanna try to make sure that we educate and promote diversity in the water industry. When I say diversity, it’s not just a black and white thing. I'm talking about, you know, the different races, the different religions, the different cultures. And also, race is a part of that, but just bringing out the value. Again, I think the value of people no matter who they are is what makes a person, or a company, or an individual section successful. I think the most successful companies in the world is the most diverse companies. So, those are some of the values that I wanna bring out as we look at to the water section. You know, when we look in the water section, there's a lot of people that have been in there for a long time. A lot of people are retiring. So, how do we replace all that knowledge? How do we replace that skillset? So, we gotta go out and educate people about what does water really mean, how can you add value, what careers are in water in. And so, I wanna be able to be that voice to be able to discuss some of those things and try to bring any and everybody into that industry.

Pat:    Alando, can you please tell me a little bit about the Boys and Girls Club and how that affects your life?

Alando:    I got involved with the Boys and Girls Club because I just had a passion for kids that may be a little bit under privileged if you will. And I wasn't born with a silver spoon in my mouth either and it takes hard work to be successful. So, I joined that organization to be an example to these younger kids and let them now even though the road may be a little rough in the beginning, if you work hard and surround yourself with good people, you can and will be successful.

[0:05:00]

    The other thing about that is it gives me the opportunity to shed light at a young age into the water industry, which is commonly unknown for a lot of younger people, understanding what the value of water really means and what career opportunities may happen or may have in water. So, it gives me the opportunity to share those types of things as well.

Pat:    It sounds like Lansing may have some opportunities for children that don't have college opportunities. Can you give us a little glimpse into what Lansing may have to offer?

Alando:    One of my biggest focuses is actually on the water engineering side. We have a program at the Lansing Board of Water & Light called our First Step Program. And we actually will go into the high schools and we will select a senior and we will let them job shadow us for part of their senior year. And I actually have been a part of that program since existence. Actually, one of my students, which graduated from high school and is now attending Michigan State University, I've had him since high school and he's worked directly in the water industry with me and my team of engineers. I mean, he is progressively achieving his engineering degree. And the hope of that is to, first of all, educate, at a younger age invest, and to get a return on your investment. So, my goal is to be able to bring him aboard once he graduate and then he’ll have experience in the water industry, which should be a value to not just himself, but also to Board on Water & Light.

Pat:    You must have some interesting stories from your time out in the field and how did that help you when you eventually ended up managing those types of people?

Alando:    It helped me out tremendously. I consider myself a people person. So, I utilized my skillset on the electric side and my ability to communicate effectively and efficiently with staff. I will always consider myself a team player. I always believe that every person, every individual has value. It is my job as a manager to be able to bring that individual value out. So, I use those kind of techniques on the electric side and it got recognized quick. So, opportunity came up in the water for the water and steam manager's position. And I applied for that position, was successful in my interview process. And that’s the position I currently hold as we speak today.

Pat:    Lansing has had some challenges with lead services as other water systems throughout the nation. Can you explain to me how Lansing took on that challenge and has become a leader?

Alando:    Yes. So, when I first took over the department, actually, the initiative for the lead service replacements was established by our former mayor, Bernero. He was the initiator in that process. And because we work so closely with the City of Lansing, we partner with them on a lot of projects throughout the city. We got involved with the lead service replacement probably over 10 years ago. I’ve been in this area in that department as manager for about 6 years. So, I was able to take over that initiative and then take the final touches to complete it. One of the things that was different for us in Lansing, we’re one of the few utilities that actually own the service from the actual main all the way to the house. Most cities will stop at the curb stop. So, they only own half of the service. So, the question is who’s responsible for replacing that lead service. Is it half the city or is it half the homeowner? Well, fortunately for us, we took on the entire responsibility from the actual main to the house. So, we were able to really strategically plan how he was gonna replace those services, how he’s gonna budget for those services, what kind of crews he’s gonna have, our customer contact. Everything was spelled out to the T. So, we were able to get it done, but there was challenges because you’re dealing with customers. You’re dealing with people that don't wanna let you in your home for various reasons. You’re dealing with services that may be challenged to replace. So, we did have our ups and downs. But overall, we were able to effectively replace them and we were actually the second utility in the nation to be able to complete all active lead services replaced.

Pat:    Congratulations. That’s quite—

Alando:    Thank you very much. I appreciate it.

Pat:    Can you just give me an idea of the scope? How many approximate services were replaced and what was the timeline that it took?

Alando:    Well, that project was over about 10 years and we replaced thousands, and thousands, and thousands of lead services. I hate to quote the wrong number. But if I had to guess, I think it was somewhere around 15,000 to 16,000 services that we had to replace. It was over a 40-million dollar project over the course of time. It was quite the challenge to get done.

Pat:    That's great. Another challenge that Lansing has had to do with the electrical side that you have some experience with. The weeklong power outage had an effect on all residents here. Can you explain how the water utility handled the outage?

Alando:    Yes. That was a very interesting question because when we did have that power outage, most of the residents here obviously didn't have electricity dead of winter right around the Christmas holidays. So, you know, not having power, it’s cold outside, but to have it during Christmas just kind of put in a little bit of icing on the cake for our customers.

[0:10:03]

    But what people didn't realize is that without power, our services froze. So, we ended up having over 800 plus frozen services over the course of that outage. And that was very interesting because nobody never really heard about it. Nobody ever reported it because my crew and my staff, which I have such excellent staff, we were all on top of it. So, we had to coordinate with our surrounding communities. We had to work 24 hours around the clock in order to replace these services or to thaw the services out. And it was quite an ordeal for us, but we were able to get water back to our customers in a timely fashion. And actually, nobody stopped working until every customer had water.

Pat:    That sounds like quite the customer service and quite the challenge for your employees. Can you take us through a night or a 24-hour shift of that type of scenario please?

Alando:    Yes. So, you know, when we first started getting reports of customer service lines being frozen, you know, we took it as a typical you may get one or two of those or you may have a main breaker too throughout the city. So, we just took it as a standard emergency. But what we quickly found out is that it went from 1 to 2, to 10 to 20, to 20 to 40 and then the number just continually grew. So, at that particular time, I had to go into action and setup an incident of command for my water distribution area, notify the proper authorities as far as upper management and let them know what is the possible risk that we have here. So, we established a 24-hour operation within our own distribution area where we have crews working 24 hours around the clock. We had our supervision staff in 24 hours around the clock obviously in shifts. We had my engineering staff in 24 hours around the clock. We had contacted our surrounding partners in our other communities in East Lansing Radiant as well as in Delta and all our other surrounding communities just to put them aware of that we may need assistance, which we did pull on them. So, we just really took the bull by the horns if you will and just prepare what we had in front of us and then we just went out and did it and make sure that we were able to get water back to our customers.

Pat:    So, I'm sure a good plan helped in a relationship with your neighbors and others. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Alando:    Yes. Obviously, a good plan where you always had to have a plan to know what you're gonna do. You can't just go out there and just waste money and just try to make things work. We're very successful in planning our projects. We’re very successful in reacting to any type of emergencies that may happen. Obviously, the goal for our system at the board or online is to be more proactive than reactive. But in the event that we do have to react in the case of emergency, we are well prepared. I owe a lot of that too much of them in the staff. Without my staff, you know, I would be nothing. So, I have a great staff of workers in the field with a ton of knowledge, a water experience. I have a great staff of supervision. And I have a great staff of engineers that work directly with me as well. So, again, it goes back to my training in the earlier stages of my career. Being able to recognize the value that individual has and being able to bring a team together and make that work I think is one of the keys that has made me very successful in my current position.

Pat:    So, Alando, as you’ve risen through the ranks, do you ever get nostalgic for those days in a wet trench?

Alando:    Well, I don't say that I miss being out there. Unfortunately, I never had to get out and dig a hole in the waterside. So, the majority of my time was actually on electric side where I had to climb a pole, you know, 60-70 feet near in a backyard at 3 o’clock in the morning was 0-degree weather with rubber gloves on working on live electricity. So, that was my journey and my path. I don't say that I miss it as much, but I do appreciate it. One of things that I do appreciate going through that type of work is you can have an understanding of what your actual workers are out there doing. You can be able to better share that story customers so they can understand that these people out here working in 0-degree weather in the water and the wind risking their lives at certain times as well as try to provide that service for the customer. So, the BW has the hometown community. The hometown power is really a true slogan. I think we live by that. I think we honor that. And I think that our hearts really go out first to our customers and then we try to provide that service the best and the safe way as possible.

Pat:    When you had the power outage, there were some changes that went at the Lansing Board of Water & Light. And can you explain, you know, how that affected the rest of the community and your department in particular?

Alando:    Yeah. There was some changes in the leadership. Fortunately, I've have great relationships with both leaders, the previous leader as well as the current.

[0:15:03]

    So, for me, I was more focused on my department individually. Sometimes you wanna leave some of the politics to those politics and you wanna be focused on your current, which my current was making sure that my water customers had service. So, even with the change of administration there, I was still focused on making sure that I was doing the job that I was being paid to do and which is manage the water distribution system.

Pat:    Alando, there are many challenges in the water industry. The latest being the PFAS that we’re dealing with. So, how do you, as a manager, try to stay one step ahead of the next emergency?

Alando:    Well, I think communication is the key. I think being associated with organizations like this AWWA, staying current on the up and coming changes, staying current on things that are happening LES station as well as any rule changes that may affect us in the water industry, just keeping that networking up, keeping all those type of things is what I think keeps us rooted and grounded. Things are changing in the world and things are changing just where we’re at currently. So, you gotta be able to adapt. So, I think that staying current in those type of things and being able to adapt with the situation makes you a positive and successful manager in the organization as well.

Pat:    So, is your day typical or are you facing challenges everyday?

Alando:    Challenges everyday. I run a department where I have about 60 employees. I have a lot of different personalities from the actual workers in the field, to engineers, to supervision, to safety and training as well. So, you know, there’s something new everyday. You know, they keep me on my toes, but I like the challenge. I like to be able to take a problem and solve a problem or say that I had a part of it, but I also like to make sure that what the situation is I can bring that team in so they can make sure that they feel like they're part of the solution as well. I think, again, it goes back to the value. So, I think that's one of the reasons why we are so successful in our area in water distribution. So yes, there's challenges everyday. We work outdoors, you know. We dig 90% of the time. There’s a lot of unknowns out there. So, the challenges change. Delegates change. Situations change. And you gotta know how to adapt to those types of things.

Pat:    If I were somebody that was interested in getting into the water industry, can you tell me a little bit about why I would put up with the black cold nights and what that really means to provide that customer service and safe water?

Alando:    Well, I think, first of all, you got have a heart to be able to serve. You gotta ask your questions. What is the reason? Why would you wanna go into the water industry? When I first took the position on as manager, learning the water industry was new for me. But once I got exposed to it and started understanding the value of water, which is one of the most valuable resources, but the most underappreciated resource until you have an issue, then you start to really understand what it means. So, I really took it to heart and started educating myself by being involved with committees, by being involved in organizations like AWWA, going back to school again, finishing up my degree. I got a master’s in organizational management as well working towards the S licenses. Just educating yourself and making yourself better prepared and more knowledgeable about really what is the value of water and what does it really mean. I think those type things is what keeps us moving and keeps us going forward and understanding where we should be in the water industry.

Pat:    Tell me a little bit more about what challenges there are for the water distribution system with respect to Legionella disease. There's a new article out talking about that. Is Lansing prepared for that challenge? I think that we're prepared for any challenge that comes upon us. Again, we try to stay ahead of the game and we try to stay current on any kind of information or any situation that may try to present itself. We have a very strong team from our water distribution, to our environmental, and to our own present distribution area. So, any challenge that come I think we're able to adapt. One of the more interesting things for me is really understanding the infrastructure and replacing the infrastructure in a timely manner, which I believe is a situation that is not just Lansing driven, but nationwide driven if you will. The infrastructure needs to be replaced. So, based on that, how do you replace the infrastructure with the money that you have and which infrastructure is gonna be the most critical area to be replaced versus area where you may just have a number of main breaks in that area? It may not mean that you don't have the same water quality, you know. So, you got a lot of different analytics that you need to take into factor in order to what infrastructure to replace. But the point of it is all the infrastructure need to be replaced. I mean, it’s not just in Lansing, but it’s worldwide. So, how do we do that? How do we combine our resources, the money that we get from our ratepayers to replace that infrastructure as well as think strategically and outside the box? Like we do at the board, we team a lot with the City of Lansing. So, when they have a road reconstruction project, we can team with them and try to save some costs not only for the taxpayers, for the City of Lansing, but for the rate players for the Board of Water & Light.

[0:20:03]

    So, we always are thinking strategically on saving money, but being able to move forward to replace infrastructure on both sides.

Pat:    Can you tell us where the listener can contact you?

Alando:    I'm at the Lansing Board of Water & Light. I guess e-mail would probably be the best way, which is alando.chappell@lbwl.com. Please if you have any questions or want to discuss anything further, shoot me an e-mail and I'll be more than happy to return it and have a conversation with whoever is interested.

Announcer:    Thank you for listening to this episode of Talking on Water by the Michigan section of the American Water Works Association. Please contact us at (517) 292-2912 or feedback at mi-water.org with any comments or ideas on future shows. We'd love to hear from you.

[0:20:58]    End of Audio

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