Ground to Cloud: Technology innovation improves safety and underground pipeline management Mike Klonsinski President, Berntsen International Inc. Madison, Wisconsin Presenter, 2017 APWA PWX
uch of America’s infrastructure is on life support and time is running out. The 2017 American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Infrastructure Report Card gives America a D+ for the condition of its roads, aviation, water and other critical infrastructure. Deteriorating infrastructure threatens our communities and global competitiveness, a situation that is driving the new administration and Congress to pass a massive infrastructure spending bill to address these problems. For years, municipalities and public works departments have struggled to maintain outdated drinking water and wastewater systems. Many of the one million miles of pipes that carry drinking water date back to the early to midtwentieth century and have a lifespan of 75 to 100 years. The strain on these systems is reflected in an estimated 240,000 water main breaks every year that waste more than two trillion gallons of treated drinking water. In addition, demand on wastewater treatment plants will grow by more than 23 percent to accommodate 56 million new users by 2032, which will require an upgrade and expansion of the nation’s 800,000 miles of public sewers and 500,000 miles of private lateral sewers. 104
Although much of our aging infrastructure is in plain view to the general public, the problems of underground pipelines are typically out of sight and out of mind until an emergency or accident. Water main breaks ranging in severity from street flooding to property damage occur on a regular basis in cities and towns across the U.S. In New Jersey, a recent water main break flooded streets and created an enormous sinkhole that swallowed an SUV. Clearly, the U.S. faces daunting challenges, but there is a silver lining. Technology innovation has advanced so rapidly in the past few years that repair and replacement of these antiquated systems is an opportune time to deploy new technology solutions to achieve substantial improvements in damage prevention, safety, reliability, efficiency and cost. Some of the biggest gains can be made by deploying digital connectivity to underground assets and building more robust data systems.
Connectivity is the next wave In the twenty-first century, decades-old paper maps and inaccurate data are being replaced by digital mapping, sensors and software that transform the way we locate, monitor and manage underground infrastructure. What is underground becomes “visible” thanks to the virtually unlimited asset infor-
mation—videos, photos and documentation—that can be relayed in real time via the cloud. This “smart marking” technology and digital connectivity are at the core of Berntsen International’s patented and award-winning InfraMarker solution, which recently received the Geospatial World Excellence Award for Technology Innovation and the RFID Journal Award. RFID technology has been an effective means for marking and locating critical underground assets for more than thirty years. The dramatic growth of connected technologies such as cloud storage, smartphones and GIS has created opportunities for RFID locating technology to be even more valuable. The bottom line: adding connectivity to underground assets is a game changer. Publicly-owned utilities can capitalize on the data-rich benefits of the Internet of Things to analyze trends, make better decisions and gain new insights into every facet of their operations. Investments in underground infrastructure technology will deliver significant improvements in safety and maintenance while streamlining operations and reducing costs for taxpayers. In addition, more robust data-driven asset management systems will enable greater transparency, easy data
August 2017 issue of the APWA Reporter, the official publication of the American Public Works Association