US Army Corps of Engineers team totes new tablet technology to speed levee inspections
August 1, 2014
FORT WORTH, Texas - Fort Worth District levee inspectors got a five-day workout this spring when they walked more than 25.5 miles of levees in the Dallas Floodway System. Their mission: documenting the condition of the levee system built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 55 years ago.
The new element for this periodic inspection was an 8x10-inch, Windows-based Fujitsu tablet with a lot of power inside. It wasn't part of the last PI field inspection, No. 9, conducted using a paper-based system in 2007. New Levee Inspection Software was configured for the USACE Levee Safety Program by the U.S. Army Engineering Research and Development Center.
"It is faster, more accurate and more efficient," said Brian Brasher, a civil engineer who led the 10-person team for PI No. 10.
The team shivered through a cold, wet morning the first day out. Then there was wind burn from regular blasts across this great open area, which kicked up dust and aggravated allergies. There were critters, too. A utility vehicle kept the occasional pack of dogs at bay, according to inspector Cassie Wagner.
Floodway geographic information systems maps, which show the levee stations and other significant features, are loaded into the tablets before the team takes the field. The global positioning system marks an inspector's location at every moment.
The inspectors walk side-by-side in a line along the levee: one atop the crest, another walking the dry-land side toe, another the riverside toe. They scan the ground, stopping to record any flaws. A second crew inspects levee-related structures, such as the city's pump stations, which move storm water out of neighborhoods and into the Trinity River drainage.
"As we walk the levee, we can put points and lines and different levee deficiencies and annotate it in the field with the Levee Inspection Software," said Brasher. "That makes mapping deficiencies easier."
Cracks, large animal burrow holes, ruts, erosion and missing sod are marked. Photos are taken then referenced in the field on the tablet's electronic floodway map.
"You may have hundreds or even thousands of defects to report," said Brasher. "When you enter in something in the LIS database now, you're entering it in live to the spot where the deficiency is noted, and not having to transpose it later in the office into the report."
Brasher also pointed out that that they can now manage and manipulate the data a lot quicker. This saves the Corps time and it also makes things more consistent.
Annual inspections and more intensive periodic inspections like this, which occur about every five years, are the Corps' battle rhythm to ensure these systems perform as designed. It's also a tool that the levee sponsors, the city of Dallas in this PI, can use to keep up with operations and maintenance.
PI No. 9 found a number of deficiencies, and rated the floodway "unacceptable." The report specifically cited 198 operations and maintenance deficiencies. The city immediately began remediation, which was completed on all 198 items to the Corps' satisfaction by 2012. Encroachments and geotechnical questions cited in the PI No. 9 report were resolved by further study, which was completed in 2013.
More than 10 million people rely on flood-risk management systems enrolled in the USACE Levee Safety Program nationwide. In Dallas, about 200,000 people work or live behind the levees.
Jason Vazquez, now the district's Dam Safety Program Manager, first used the new template technology when he worked on the 2010 Fort Worth Levee System field inspection (for the 2011 PI report) for its local sponsor, the Tarrant Regional Water District. Speed in delivering the levee draft PI report to the sponsor proved to be a big benefit.
"Within two weeks of getting back to the office from the Fort Worth PI, we had given TRWD a list of about 300 deficiencies, and they were able to correct the deficiencies while we were putting together the report," said Vazquez. "They really loved that."
TRWD embraced the LIS tablet technology. Omaha District provided training for both TRWD and Fort Worth District personnel before the PI, said Julie Vicars. She worked for the Corps then but last year joined TRWD in a similar capacity as a senior GIS analyst. The water district uses the LIS software loaded onto iPads.
"The biggest benefit is we have the data in a digital inventory where we can see it on multiple platforms - iPads and desktop computers," said Vicars. "When someone calls up, and says we have a situation, we can go and look it up and determine if it's a known issue."
TRWD also uses the shared database for quarterly O&M reports to the Corps. When the Corps concurs with a TRWD corrective action, their shared digital levee inventory is updated. "That means we know we're looking at the same data the Corps is looking at. There are no surprises, which is very nice," said Vicars.
According to Brasher, automation this year enabled the Dallas Floodway PI team to deliver a 500-page draft report to the city just four weeks following the inspection. This provides valuable lead time for the city to make fixes and have them re-inspected before the final report is issued in September.
"We have good sponsor coordination and communication," said Brasher. "We communicate quite a bit with the city of Dallas, whether during scheduled meetings or daily. That's the big thing. It's not them vs. the Corps. It's not adversarial. It's more of a cooperative type of relationship - partnering."
The tablets performed as expected. But the wildlife encounters?
Wagner, an engineering geologist, reached her six-inch ruler into a levee crack just as a spider decided to come out - right by her hand. Surprise!