Communicating With Public Works Using Technology

By Joe Scavuzzo, Director, Department of Public Works

There have been great strides in technology over the past 15 years that have impacted how we communicate. In the late 1990’s, I recall my sister having her own phone line in her room for chatting with her girlfriends. The only thing to interrupt that convenience was the dial-up internet service for the sole family computer. Now, we watch YouTube videos of people walking into telephone poles while glued to their smart phones.

The methods that Pennsauken residents communicate with the Department of Public Works has also evolved with the times. However, our most utilized way is the tried and true way: by telephone. While Pennsauken is a large town in regards to size, occupying 12 square miles, our community maintains a small town feel. By calling our department at (856) 663-0178, your call will be answered or shortly returned by our friendly office clerk, Rachael. From missed trash pick-ups, pot hole reporting, and all the other aspects that the department is responsible for, she is the central point for receiving and documenting every aspect of your call. For high-priority issue resolution, such as a fallen tree blocking a street, the superintendent or myself would be dispatched to assess and redirect the necessary manpower.

The second-most used method of communicating with our department is through e-mail. I would like to share the story that convinced me to have communication as a topic for this month’s article. We received an e-mail from a resident on Rudderrow Ave. reporting a “sinkhole/pothole” forming. As I’ve seen cars completely swallowed-up by sinkholes, an immediate road closure would ensure public safety. What this resident did, however, was use his “smartphone” to take a photo and e-mailed it, along with his contact information and the location of the street issue, to our e-mail address at In the subject line, he wrote the closest address to the pothole/sinkhole. It was quickly determined that the hole was forming from a failing patch-job that PSE&G had made over a natural gas line. The factors in determining ownership of the patch in this instance was simple, as the fresh yellow spray paint indicated that it was a natural gas pipe that was accessed below the street.

I am compelled to remind those that are addicted to smart phones and social media like Twitter and Facebook, that emergencies and hazardous situations should be reported to 9-1-1 for immediate response. Although potholes and sinkholes can become hazardous over an extended period of time, an assessment from our department’s Road Patch Crew or the Township Engineer would determine the appropriate response.

One of the greater advantages that this story gives to our department is that no special trip out to the site was needed in determining any immediate response. The photo, due to the quality of the camera’s phone, showed that the surface of the patch was only starting to break apart, not creating a hole. We have already reached out to PSE&G’s Natural Gas division; they will respond to the problem and correct it.

When I talk about communication and how it applies to my work, most people assume that I’m referring to complaints. In all reality, communication relates to organization and work processes. If the Department of Public Works fails to properly gather information, assess the issue, and apply the proper resolution, tasks aren’t accomplished. If this structure breaks down… then you have complaints. Our department looks at your phone calls and e-mails as information. With only 23 employees that are scattered across our town each day, it is nearly impossible to cover all 12 square miles each week. We rely on your correspondences so that we may address concerns that we’re capable of and responsible for handling.

To close this article, I would like to mention that at points in time, the ball is dropped for a number of reasons: financial, miscommunication, longer-than-expected turn-around time, etc. “To err is human.” We do ask for your patience at those times.

On behalf of the staff of Pennsauken’s Department of Public Works, I would like to wish you a Happy Thanksgiving. As always, if you have any questions or concerns, please reach us at (856) 663-0178 or e-mail

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