A Day in the Life: Meet Ron Lindsay and the SUE Crew
Subsurface Utility Engineering (SUE) is a profession as varied and important as it is overlooked and understated. For SUE Project Manager, Ronald “Ron” Lindsay, Jr., a typical day may begin by communicating with clients or searching for utility records, but often ends in a safety vest and hard hat.
Ron wears a lot of hats.*
6:00 a.m. – Coordinating the field crew
Each successful day on a project begins with a well-coordinated team, so Ron starts by meeting with the field crew to discuss the day’s work and confirm all project information necessary to complete the day’s goals.
A captain’s cap is most appropriate here, since a successful day depends on a tightly run ship.
He meets with the crew to review the project in detail. The team also discusses safety, work limits (project site perimeter), and any final scope concerns or questions.
8:00 a.m. – Communicating with clients
After the crew leaves for their assignment, the next hat Ron dons is the client liaison hat – a top hat; a very fancy, best-foot-forward kind of look.
Ron frequently acts as the primary point of contact for clients, who may be project owners or other engineering firms without in-house SUE services like CP&Y. To the ultimate benefit of every project, Ron and his team facilitate thorough and frequent communication with clients. Ron also often assists SUE Director, Glenn Fox, with business development initiatives that showcase how SUE services can be vital to the success of a project.
“Some clients are on an accelerated schedule and communication allows us to meet their delivery dates,” explained Ron.
“Communication is critical,” added Glenn, “as both Ron or I always try to respond to a client the day we receive a request.”
This tag team approach to communication helps CP&Y’s SUE Department retain repeat clients and earn new ones.
9:30 a.m. – Managing the team
Later that morning, Ron switches one hat for another as he attends to his managerial responsibilities.
No matter what industry you’re in, the manager’s hat is definitely an all black, wool felt fedora straight out of The Godfather to show everyone you mean business.
As manager, Ron’s duties include coordinating SUE personnel schedules for numerous, simultaneous projects in a variety of locations. When scheduling, Ron is careful to break up the larger projects into segments. This way, work is being completed for smaller projects between the larger projects’ segments. By managing the schedule this way, Ron assures that the team meets deadlines while also balancing out of town travel with stretches of work locally.
“I really enjoy all aspects of my work with the SUE Department,” said Ron. “I seem to thrive on the stress and short deadlines.”
10:15 a.m. – Quality Level D: Ron is on the case!
Once schedules are set, Ron must put on his detective cap because every SUE survey begins with an investigation into existing records.
SUE services are defined by four degrees or levels of comprehensiveness or accuracy. These levels range from Quality Level D, which is the most basic assembly of information, to Quality Level A, which provides the most exact level of service.
Quality Level D involves collecting existing records, which include “information derived from existing records or oral recollections."** This gives a broad, big-picture look at a project site, which is useful for large projects in need of finding a path of least resistance through or around underground utilities.
The process of obtaining existing records begins with a call to Texas811. Depending on the needs of the project and client, the One Call center either simply supplies the CP&Y SUE Department with a list of utility owners in the project area (in which case, Ron submits a records request to each utility operator) or directly notifies utility operators to mark their lines and other infrastructure.
Utility operators mark their lines with paint or flags in colors that correspond to the type of utility being identified (Figure 1). The issue is that these marks are often incomplete or do not meet the accuracy standards of the SUE industry.
Furthermore, although participation in the Texas811 program is mandatory for franchise utilities, gathering all existing records still requires a bit of sleuthing. Ron must often call or visit in-person various municipalities or other exempt, non-franchised utilities to hunt down anyone who may have knowledge about a non-member underground utility. Even after contact is made, there is no guarantee that the information provided will be accurate, and the marks from utility operators may be less accurate than necessary for design and ultimate construction.
“The most frustrating thing,” said Ron, “is the lack of response from utility companies [after] record requests or the very poor quality of the records provided that do nothing to help identify the location/information about their utility.”
11:00 a.m. – Quality Level C: Following the clues
Now that Ron and his team have gathered all the available records from the identified utility owners, these records are incorporated into a topographic survey for Quality Level C. This level of utility mapping combines existing records with a topographic survey, which includes features such as sidewalks, roads, buildings, and above-ground utility structures.
Using this topographic survey, utility lines are connected to above ground structures using utility records and “professional judgement,”** which is often needed to resolve conflicting information. By connecting the dots in this way, the team concludes approximate horizontal locations for utilities and Quality Level C is complete. Depending on the project and client, Quality Levels D and C may have already been completed and provided; however, CP&Y’s SUE Department is able to provide full, in-house services as needed.
Now that the office work is done, it’s time for Ron and the crew to visit the project site – but first, lunch!
1:00 p.m. – Quality Level B: Looking beneath the surface
Back from lunch and taking a boots-on-the-ground approach to daily SUE activities, Ron puts on his CP&Y hard hat as he meets the crew on site. It’s time to investigate and confirm in the field the accuracy of the existing records.
The SUE technicians use a radio frequency or RF transmitter (a battery powered, boxy device about the size of a briefcase) to send electromagnetic waves through the ground and onto the target conductor (i.e., an underground utility line made of metal). These waves are then detectable by the RF receiver (the wand-like, hand-held signal detector shown in Figure 2).
The RF receiver’s screen illustrates to technicians the strength/weakness of the signal frequency received, allowing for the interpretation of the utility location. This method works well for locating conductive materials, but lines made of non-conductive materials require a slightly different approach.
For lines made of non-conductive materials, like the High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) commonly used for water lines, SUE technicians must first search for above ground structures, such as hydrant valves. Locating these telltale structures enables the computer-aided design (CAD) technicians back in the office to more accurately depict such non-traceable utilities. To illustrate that a line is non-traceable, CAD technicians use a different line style to indicate the appropriate level of confidence in the location of that utility.
But what about lines that are both non-conductive and have no portion exposed above ground, such as wastewater lines or empty conducts? This is where a traceable duct rodder comes in.
For this method, copper wire encased in a protective duct rod is unrolled from tire-sized spool and inserted into the lines in question. SUE crew members connect their electromagnetic locating equipment (i.e., the RF transmitter) to the duct rodder and are then able to detect this conductive wire and trace the path of the utility using the RF receiver.
The drawback to duct rodding is that the rodder can become stuck on sharp bends, uneven pipe joints, and blockages from debris or collapsed conduits. Documentation of such encounters is noted by SUE technicians who label the loss of signal on a line as “EOI” or the “end of information” on their field sketch.
Ron makes sure his SUE crews provide each project with due diligence, encouraging the technicians to search beyond the project site perimeter to check for additional utilities that may unexpectedly pass through the site. The crew performs two-person, grid pattern sweeps with the utility locating equipment to confirm and mark known utilities as well as search for or identify undocumented, inactive, or abandoned utilities. Going above and beyond like this can reveal unexpected lines or connections that would otherwise have remained uninvestigated.
Throughout this game of utility hide-and-seek, technicians constantly mark the ground with colored paint to designate the confirmation or discovery of line locations and types. Then, the cross-trained SUE crew surveys all of the paint marks.
“The SUE field crews have been cross-trained by the survey group to operate GPS equipment,” explained Glenn, “which allows them to collect their utility designation and test hole excavations. This not only saves time but improves accuracy.”
Eliminating surprises is what SUE is all about.
“By using our services,” said Glenn, “clients will save money by having utilities mapped accurately, which will greatly reduce design conflicts, unexpected utilities during construction, and costs due utilities that need to be relocated or are damaged.”
Finally, field sketches detailing all of this information are carried back to the office for a final round of quality control checks.
2:45 p.m. – Back in the office
At this point, Ron should probably pull out that the detective cap once again because it’s time for another round of investigation.
Now that the team has used the “appropriate surface geophysical methods to determine the existence and approximate horizontal position of subsurface utilities,”** Ron coordinates with the CP&Y Survey Department who process (or compile/digitize) the surveyed utility lines. Then, the drawings are reviewed by SUE staff and technicians for another check of accuracy.
During this quality control check, the team searches for any remaining missing records, accounts for all lines noted in the as-built drawings, confirms that all field sketches match the compiled/digitized versions, and makes sure that no above-ground utility inside or immediately outside the project site is overlooked as a potential lead for further SUE investigation.
Quality Levels D through B are now complete.
4:15 p.m. – Wrapping up
To round the day out, Ron jumps back into his role as client liaison (another hat trick). He corresponds with clients regarding proposals, invoices, and the final drawings produced by his SUE team.
Ron may also advise clients regarding the use of Quality Level A services, which determine the “precise horizontal and vertical location of utilities obtained by the actual exposure and subsequent measurement of subsurface utilities.”** In other words, Quality Level A confirms the depth (or vertical location) of the utility by using CP&Y’s vacuum excavation truck to physically uncover a utility line at the exact point of conflict. The test hole is typically only 12 inches in diameter and the process is completed in just a few hours.
Finally, as another day in CP&Y’s SUE Department comes to an end, Ron prepares to juggle the next day’s tasks and meet more project milestones.
“Ron’s ability to perform whatever tasks are needed to keep projects and the department moving forward are a result of his ability to multitask and manage both his time and budgets,” said Glenn.
Providing SUE services requires a team effort and careful coordination, both with the client and among the team. The success of CP&Y projects involving SUE services is testament to the entire SUE staff. Communication, due diligence, and quality control allows CP&Y projects to save clients time and money.
For more information about how SUE benefits projects, read “What lurks beneath? How SUE takes the fear out of what lies below” in The Partner’s Journal or visit our Subsurface Utility Engineering webpage to see a list of services offered by CP&Y as well as a few of our project highlights.
Connect with Ron!
Ron Lindsay, SUE Project Manager, may be reached at 214.589.6931 or by email at email@example.com to answer any questions about CP&Y's SUE services.
*Note: All hats worn by Ron in this article are humorous metaphors (except the hard hat; safety is not a joke).