Protecting the environment is no longer a matter of
civic conscience or discretion. Increasingly, municipalities are being
held to strict federal standards for wastewater collection, wastewater
treatment and related activities. This past fall, Utility Sealing
Systems, Inc. (USSI)
of Venice, Florida, a company that helps utilities across America
protect their wastewater collection systems from rainwater inflow,
found a way to deliver better service faster.
USSI's expertise lies in a patented technology that seals leaks in the
collection systems. The most common entry points for rainwater are in
the manhole structures and the lateral lines. This inflow causes
backups and overflows, as well as adding to the costs of wastewater
treatment. These costs can be significant because utilities must treat
all water that enters the system and goes to the wastewater treatment
plants. If the flow doubles during a rain event, as is often the case,
the cost and the impact on plant operations is substantial. Overflows
can also run up costs due to environmental violations and structural
damage, and the subsequent fines and repair costs.
FAST software on a Palm Treo PDA, a USSI technician records field data
for an inflow-abatement project in Palm Beach County, Florida. Data
includes precise GPS location, detailed information required by the
utility, as well as digital photos. Data is uploaded to USSI
headquarters, then a very thorough, complete and accurate report is
generated - in hours, not days or weeks - and presented to utility
officials. (Click for larger image)
USSI offers a solution via its "G7 Program." The
challenge has been
speed of assessment/delivery and accurate reporting for complex, large
scale and inadequately mapped systems.
When USSI tackled a project for Palm Beach County, Florida using FAST
software from GeoAge, the
company's challenges also became increased opportunities. (FAST
stands for Field Adapted Survey Toolkit, and is a tool that makes
collecting data in the field easy.) Palm Beach County had just acquired
a new system and needed to have it brought up to county standards. The
utility also needed reliable coordinates and maps for the system.
Operating from field-friendly Palm Treo mobile PDAs, FAST enabled
custom data survey creation, links to GPS mapping and the Internet, and
instant reports via wireless communications to project headquarters. In
Palm Beach County, the boost to operational accuracy and speed
"Before FAST, we used a paper-based system to create the reports on
each project. When information was entered in the field, then reentered
at project headquarters, the duplication increased the likelihood for
error. Reassessments were often required, adding lots of time delays
and unnecessary labor costs," noted Lloyd Wander, USSI's president.
FAST facilitates savings
With FAST in place, the USSI team sped through its process, approaching
the difficult task of surveying each component of the utility's
wastewater collection system with new confidence. In rapid sequence,
technicians located and sealed manhole chimneys, completed data capture
forms, attached precise GPS locations and digital photos, and provided
reports. Afterwards, USSI stated that enhanced reporting had turned out
to be one of the biggest benefits of FAST.
"It's a great advantage for our customers and for USSI," said Wander.
"We believed that technology could offer a more efficient and higher
quality process. And that's just what FAST has done."
With a new way to capture and integrate data, enhance data accuracy and
boost reporting functions, USSI technicians could focus on their core
competency: helping utilities protect critical water resources by
providing economical solutions to rainwater inflow. "In Palm Beach
County, we saw that the effort on our part was dramatically different,"
said Wander. "A report that previously took two days to assemble can
now be done in four hours. That's because when the data comes to us,
it's all in one file, compiled and ready to print. FAST has given us a
real leg up in our industry."
The impact was even more remarkable considering turnaround. USSI's
impressive results in Palm Beach County were accomplished just a month
after the first contact with GeoAge - and after only one day of team
training on the software.
"FAST is an easy-deploy option for field teams with varying degrees of
technical skill," said GeoAge president Jeff Arnold. "Basically, anyone
who is comfortable using a Windows-based program can pick up FAST
quickly. At the same time, it's an extremely robust program that offers
Faster, more reliable data
The implications for teams like USSI are enormous. With eco-friendly
wastewater treatment federally mandated across the country, utilities
are scrambling to comply. The challenge of mapping and assessing
potential inflow points is staggering in scope, its difficulty
magnified by outdated reporting methods. In Palm Beach County, FAST
helped workers organize operations "on the fly." Working from data
survey forms created for the event, they were instantly "on the same
page" with project objectives. Internet and GIS/GPS access from the
field helped to improve accuracy and facilitate repair work. With team
workers linked from their hand-held Palm Treos, reporting was not only
faster, but also more usable than ever before.
technician notes location and type of water inflow on a Palm Treo PDA
during a project in Palm Beach County, Florida. With FAST software, he
also has the option of attaching a photo to this data record before
submitting it to USSIs headquarters via wireless service. Smoke was
forced through the lateral lines by specialized equipment in order to
detect possible leaks. (Click for larger image)
Wander believes that improved mapping and reporting will have a
positive long-term impact. "Now, Palm Beach County has the data on
their newly acquired wastewater system that they can depend on for
accuracy," he noted. "The County can reference our GPS coordinates and
put them right into a GIS system. This simplifies their life and gives
them the information they need."
A program with multiple applications
"We're delighted with the impact of FAST this first time out of the
gate with USSI," Arnold said. "It provides another great example - and
there are many - of the adaptability of the software to a wide range of
enterprises. FAST is the first data collection software that integrates
mapping as part of a field report. It is fully compatible with current
geospatial technology, including Web-based GIS. You can opt for GPS or
GPS Altitude for 3-D imaging, or geocoding using Google Earth."