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OM in the News: Why Los Angeles Should Read Chapter 17

September 6, 2014
A recent water main rupture in Los Angeles

A recent water main rupture in Los Angeles

We know that not every OM instructor covers Chapter 17, Maintenance and Reliability. It is after all, the last chapter in a long text. But if Jay has told me once, he has lectured me a 1,000 times: “Maintenance is one of the most critical of the 10 OM decisions that managers make!”  And so it appears that the city of Los Angeles should have been reading Chapter 17 for the past 3 decades.

As The New York Times (Sept. 2, 2014) reports: “The scene was apocalyptic: a torrent of water from a ruptured pipe valve bursting through Sunset Boulevard, hurling chunks of asphalt 40 feet into the air as it closed down the celebrated thoroughfare and inundated the campus of UCLA. By the time emergency crews patched the pipe, 20 million gallons of water had cascaded across the college grounds.”

It was just the latest sign of a continuing breakdown of the public works skeleton of the U.S.’s 2nd-largest city: its roads, sidewalks and water system. With each day, another accident illustrates the cost of deferred maintenance on public works, with an estimated $8.1 billion it would take to do the necessary repairs. The city’s annual budget is $26 million. LA’s problems reflect the challenges many American cities face after years of recession-era belt-tightening prompted them to delay basic maintenance. “It’s part of a pattern of failing to provide for the future,” said one UCLA prof.

The average LA car owner spends $832 a year for repairs related to the bad roads, the highest in the nation. Families here routinely spring for expensive strollers to handle treacherous sidewalks. Close to 40% of the region’s 6,500 miles of roads and highways are graded D or F. More than 4,000 of the 10,750 miles of sidewalks are in severe disrepair. More than 10% of the 7,200 miles of water pipes were built 90 years ago. At the current level of funding, it would take the city 315 years to replace them.

Classroom discussion questions:

1. Why is maintenance such an important part of OM?

2. What strategy might LA take at this point?

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