|Subsurface Utility Engineering Undergoing Exponential Growth
From its early beginning more than two decades ago, Subsurface Utility Engineering (SUE) continues to evolve as an engineering process that envelopes an entire spectrum of technologies to use utility data effectively in managing, maintaining and installing underground networks.
"There is a misperception of SUE, SUE is not a technology, but a series of technologies--a process," said Jim Anspach, principal of So-Depp and one of the founders of SUE.
Anspach chairs the American Society of Civil Engineers' (ASCE) Construction Council. He notes that ASCE's national standard on utility mapping (ASCE C/I 38-02, Standard Guideline for Collection and Depiction of Existing Subsurface Utility Data) is now a part of many project owner contract specifications and i rapidly becoming the standard of care for utility mapping around the country.
SUE is no longer a novelty. "SUE is a broad catchall term. There is not much designed where ground is moved when an engineer does not use USE," Anspach said. "Every project in the country moves forward utilizing some aspect of SUE, the question is are they using every aspect and using it correctly."
SUE has grown exponentially for some time. The number of firms providing a complete suite of services for SUE grew from four a decade ago to more than 1000 today, according to Anspach.
The official definition of SUE is a branch of engineering practice that involves managing certain risks associated with utility mapping at appropriate quality level, utility coordination, utility relocation design and coordination, utility condition assessment, communication of utility data to concerned parties. Utility relocation cost estimates, implementation of utility accommodation policies and utility design.
The entire process of the ASCE Subsurface Utility Engineering is managed by registered geologists, surveyors and engineers with extensively trained technicians working under their guidance. One of the first tasks a subsurface utility engineer will take when asked to map existing utilities for a project is to gather all available records. For Ron Kaminski, Principal of HBK Engineering in Chicago, this means becoming part historian.
Engineers as Historians
"The Chicago Historical Society is a great resource. As historians we find old pictures and documents to give us a clue as to what was built at that time," Kaminski said. Using historical data with the latest survey technology HBK, has built on of the most extensive base maps and databases of the infrastructure within the Chicago business district. Working closely with the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) and many agencies with CDOT including the Office of Underground Coordination, Bureau of Inspections and the Bureau of Bridges and Transit, HBK's base maps and design drawings are considered by these agencies to be the standard to follow and were used by the City of Chicago in a publication entitled Construction Document-Submittal Review, Approval and Permitting-Procedure/Guidelines which provides facility owners, engineers and contractors with appropriate examples to follow.
"We use modern technology to accurately map every street, log it and keep it," Kaminski said. This technology and extensive database of Chicago's business district infrastructure allowed HBK Engineering to perform the first major direct boring project in the city as they worked on the historic Wacker Driver restoration and revival project that began in 2001 and continued through 2004. "We became part historian and part engineer, part surveyor and part record researcher. We performed conventional surveying of trolley tunnels, high level topographical mapping, visited every building and existing utility," Kaminski explained. The result was permission from the city to complete 2400 linear feet of directional boring including a 34 duct conduit backbone. The challenging aspect of this project included relocating providers currently attached to the Wacker Drive bridge structure prior to its demolition without disrupting customer services well as coordinating the design of the future infrastructure improvements and additional utility relocations.
"What is important in the design and planning phase is did we tie every tool possible together properly to give the best picture," Kaminski said. "Time, money and above all personal safety are number one. We always pay attention to safety, excavator protection. The men and women rely on the (one-calls) as a piece of the puzzle and the other piece is the engineer and design process." As a member of the Greater Chicago Damage Prevention Council, Kaminski said HBK Engineering strives to maintain constant communication about facilities protection within the underground construction community as a coordinated effort is the best way to minimize accidental damage.
Working within the City of Chicago means understanding the extensive network of tunnels that lie underneath, he said. The first tunnel system was a 62 mile network built in the late 1800s and early 1900s. "If you are building a skyscraper or tower, want to know tunnel exists and HBK can give the exact location," Kaminski said. Locating the concrete tunnels underground is a very interesting dilemma, but necessary to avoid damage.
In 1992, the tunnels gained publicity when they were breached and flooded as one of the biggest financial catastrophes in Chicago since the Chicago Fire. HBK utilizes a wide range of tools and technologies to locate the tunnels from researching atlases of existing tunnels to more modern technology. "We traverse from the surface from openings that exist for about a block or so. Survey crews go into the tunnels with fall protection equipment to traverse the tunnels with their equipment in water up to their knees and total darkness to get an actual picture," he said.
This use of Subsurface Utility Engineering techniques allowed them to assist in building a Target Store in downtown Chicago around a tunnel an accurately location within a fraction of a foot a sewer tunnel cutting through the property of owned by the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago and the future site of one of its new facilities.
Moving SUE into the design and build method of delivery is a new concept that Nick Zembillas, of TBE Group, said rose from the military. He calls it a step forward within the industry. Zembillas agrees with Anspach in that SUE is no longer a technology, but an engineering process that has been given validation as a civil engineering discipline through the efforts of the ASCE.
"The standard of care and recognition has risen (for SURE)," Zembillas said. "SUE is now used to various degrees in most projects, but private industry does not use every time. In transportation projects it is a requirement."
TBE Group works extensively with Departments of Transportation. "In the last decade more DOTs are endorsing (SUE) and supporting it by encouraging or requiring their consultants to use it," Zembillas said. Ten years ago less than a dozen states had formal SUE programs for in-house or consultant projects. Now, that number is more than 40, according to Zembillas.
TBE Group has used SUE as part in design/build projects for the Texas Department of Transportation turnpike authority as projects with Minnesota Department of Transportation and South Carolina Department of Transportation.
Dave Huscher, Arizona Business Unit Manager with TBE Group, uses SUE extensively in the Salt River Project in Phoenix as crews locate underground utilities for a cable replacement and expansion project. "This year we used surface locating and vacuum excavation for able replacement and whenever new networks are built, we pot hole to mitigate any problems with construction," Huscher said. In addition. TBE's West Region office has been awarded SUE contracts with the water department in Tuscon to provide SUE services for their designers as well as the Pimcone Wastewater Group in Tucson to provide SUE in the design projects to meet ASCE standards and quality of work, Huscher said.
As we move into the second decade of Subsurface Utility Engineering, engineers practicing this discipline continue to use the latest most advanced technologies. While this technology has been around for some time in the United States, Zembillas sees it reach expanding geographically to other parts of the world. TBE Group became the first to use it in Canada more than four years ago and have been working in Puerto Rico since 1997. He predicted a spread of this process through other regions as one of the SUE advancements for the future.
Anspach sees more HIS applications, more GPS surveying and new ground penetrating radar new advancing happening within Subsurface Utility Engineering. He said he also sees project managers looking to subsurface utility engineers to be participants in construction as relates to damage prevention. "In the past project managers and clients would come to me to dig 15 test holes in these specific areas. Now they are coming to us to map it and tell them where the test holes should be based on utility coordination and relocation design," Anspach said. "They want one person responsible for entire project rather than pointing fingers here and there if something goes wrong." The bar has been raised for subsurface utility engineers, Anspach said, they are practicing a profession with regulations, licensing and an expectation of competence. "don't be fooled by some unscrupulous companies who use SUE and in small print indicate Subsurface Utility Exploration," he said.
Kaminski agrees that firms practicing SUE must stand behind their work. "The pressure is on to be accurate. You must be responsible from Point A to Point B and no hide behind any disclaimers," he said. "SUE may not be on everyone's mind in competitive bid projects, but project managers must remember they are not comparing apples to apples. We will not change the way we do things to meet a price. The lifelines of the city of Chicago from gas to electric to water are dangerous stuff and if not mapped correctly could have catastrophic results."
Underground Focus Magazine