Subsurface Utility Engineering: Finding Hidden Infrastructure
Beneath the ground, subsurface utilities weave intricate pathways of water, electric, sewer, gas, drainage, and communication lines. But even with the most vigilant maintenance programs, the eventual repair or replacement of these subterranean utilities is inevitable. So, while above ground infrastructure has the advantage of visual inspection, what about down under? Meet SUE, or subsurface utility engineering.
SUE provides the most effective means of verifying and mapping the location of existing underground utilities. To do so, it employs a coordinated approach to obtaining the data. The American Society of Civil Engineers have defined four quality levels – Levels A through D – within the SUE process as the Standard for Collection and Depiction of Existing Subsurface Utility Data. Adhering to this methodical standard is the most effective means for safe identification of subsurface utilities and their environment.
First, subsurface utility engineering collects data from all available sources: permitting records, as-builts, pretty much any documents regarding the site’s history. Then, it uses a combination of data tools such as survey and electromagnetic utility-locating devices (ground penetrating radar) to find hidden service lines. Next, they locate utilities by exposing them through non-destructive vacuum excavation. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) can then be integrated into the mix to manage these assets through a web-based program. When combined all together, this process becomes SUE.
But when integrating the SUE process, it is imperative to be proactive with early utility coordination and exercise a standardized approach to ensure the quality level of data collection.
The Early Bird Gets the Worm
“The design team should partner with utility coordinators as early in the SUE process as possible to ensure they are both part of the project buy-in,” says Regional Utility Senior Project Manager Robert Memory, CPM. When talking utilities to the experts, you should apply the 4-C approach: communication, cooperation, coordination, and commitment. “To successfully work with any utility company, effective listening is a critical part of the communication process.”
While saving clients time and cost is certainly key, SUE also enhances safety during construction activities. “Executing proper cautionary steps for public safety is paramount when dealing with utilities. Ultimately, who’s paying for the relocation of the utilities shouldn’t be a factor.”
To find out more about SUE and how it can help your project, read More Than Meets the Eye: Updating Our Nation’s Hidden Infrastructure featured in Civil + Structural Engineer Magazine’s October issue!