The future of urban development and construction would likely evolve around sustainability and dealing with new challenges (e.g. population growth, pollution, climate change, balancing the interests of different sectors). These are perceived to be “surface” problems. However, one of the most neglected aspects is the subsurface infrastructure development.
What’s happening beneath the ground could be far more complex than what we see on the surface. Truly, it’s still amazing to see skyscrapers and modern marvels above the ground. The less glamorous part is the underground utilities and other structures that are crucial for the proper functioning of the residential, commercial and government establishments.
Complex network and flow of the necessities
For a city to work, the inflow and outflow of the necessities should be efficient and reliable. Water must be successfully delivered and transported within the different parts of the city and buildings. Sewage should also be processed and transported reliably to prevent hazards and contamination. Electrical cables and transmission lines should be working perfectly 24/7 to get the economy going.
As cities evolve and become more crowded, underground complexity is also rising. Aside from ensuring a solid foundation, the pipes and cables become convoluted that makes it a challenge to navigate through them. Whether it’s placing a new structure above or below the ground, the modern complexity presents many new challenges for engineers and construction firms.
That’s why there’s now a need for accurate utility mapping. The positions and identities of subsurface objects should be first determined before planning a construction or excavation activity. This way, the crew won’t damage the existing utilities or get exposed to hazards. For example, accidentally hitting an electrical cable may result to worker injuries and community interruptions.
In a way, accurate utility mapping contributes to the proper functioning of the complex network of utilities 24/7. The reliability of this network is crucial to city living and economic development. Any interruption could mean huge financial losses and serious inconveniences to the city dwellers and workers.
As a result, construction and excavation firms are now more careful when underground utilities will somehow be affected. This may require slow and careful excavation. Better still, all the pipes and cables should be mapped accurately to avoid risks and hazards of blind digging. Take note that it only takes one accident to halt the project and encounter serious legal consequences. For instance, busting a water pipe may propel water and debris onto the workers. In addition, this would result to water interruptions and flooding of the site. This may then lead to legal issues which are costly and time consuming.
How underground utilities are accurately identified and located
Due to the importance of accurate underground utility mapping, there are now dedicated professionals who focus on doing this kind of work. Combined with their expertise, they also use sophisticated tools and techniques to identify and locate subsurface utilities.
For example, certified Service Locators mostly use electromagnetic equipment to detect and map power lines. The equipment uses a transmitter to send signals and read the results when the signals return. Another example is when locating water pipes. Certified Service Locators also use electromagnetic equipment as well as ground penetrating radar (GPR). The GPR method can be used to detect both metallic and non-metallic pipes (but it must only be used on dry soil to avoid errors and interferences).
Aside from mapping the utilities, certified Service Locators can also identify sewer line collapses and blockages. This is crucial in ensuring proper outflow of wastewater from city buildings. Collapses and blockages in the sewer lines might cause wastewater backup and health hazards to building occupants.
Professionals should promptly identify and locate sewer line issues so the concerned firms can initiate repairs. Service locators can accomplish this by using sonde locators (these are inserted into the sewer line). These will travel along the sewer and emit a signal, which results to mapping the line’s trajectory.
The top priority though in identifying and locating underground utilities (and other objects) is to ensure the crew’s safety when construction or excavation commences. For example, the locations of storage tanks often have no records. This is important if the crew is working on a site that’s used to be an oil refinery, service station or transport depot. Even if the site has been inactive for a while, the storage tanks might still be holding diesel and other volatiles. Damaging the tanks could start a fire, injure workers, release toxins into the environment or damage your excavating equipment.
Most importantly, hitting any other object besides the soils and rocks when excavating may cause injuries and fatalities. The lack of records in the identity and location of underground tanks and utilities is not an excuse in blind digging, which is why construction and excavation firms hire professional locators for better site safety (and possibly faster project progress).
These considerations behind the scenes often play a huge role in safe urban development and construction. Whenever we look around we just see the skyscrapers, roads and bridges. But beneath the ground the structures could be more complex and may require more considerations.
Safe excavation & environmental considerations
There are several risks present during excavations. Aside from safety risks due to damage of pipes and lines, there are also environmental considerations under the ground at play. For instance, improper excavation may allow the release of gaseous waste and toxins from under the ground into the atmosphere. These could harm the workers and neighbourhood as well as the environment.
To mitigate the risks, engineers often choose hydro vacuum excavation for better safety and minimal intrusion. This is suitable for fast and effective removal of both wet and dry waste from the site. The method can remove building site waste, slurry, sewer blockages, sludge and storm water. Aside from minimal intrusion, this also allows for removal of large volumes of waste even in narrow or difficult to access areas.
Waste removal from underground is a challenge especially in crowded urban locations. The difficulty of access, plus the proximity to people and high population density could make excavation and waste removal hazardous. But with hydro vacuum excavation, it’s now possible to do it safely and with minimal release of toxins into the environment.
Looking within concrete and walls
The rise of urban sites also means more concrete structures (including roads and buildings). Many jobs would require drilling or cutting through concrete, which is why it’s important to see what’s concealed in concrete structures and walls before commencing the task.
To do it safely, certified Service Locators perform concrete X-ray scanning to determine concealed objects such as reinforcement steel. This way, workers can take additional precautions and choose the most appropriate method when drilling or cutting through concrete. Moreover, this will also allow workers to determine the concealed objects without tearing down or digging through surfaces. This results to significant savings in time, effort and costs.
This is actually a common job in urban sites because of the widespread use of concrete in various structures. The time and cost savings resulting from concrete X-ray scanning allow engineers and the crew to accomplish the job successfully with minimal intrusion.
The future of urban development and construction
Most people only focus on what’s being seen above the ground. Urban sites expand and grow upward. But look under the ground and the whole development is much more complex than what we see on the surface.
There are thousands of kilometres of pipes and cables underground which serve as the veins and nerves of the city. Any malfunction could result to financial losses, serious activity interruptions or even total shutdown of the city. That’s why one of the most responsible things to do when starting a new project is to prevent damage to underground utilities. More importantly, accurate utility maps allow for safer working conditions and environments for the residents in the area.
Here at Geosurv, our certified Service Locators are dedicated to safety and accuracy. We use sophisticated tools and techniques to provide a complete map and identity of the utilities underground. This way, your crew can dig safely while also preventing damage to the subsurface cables and pipes.
Contact us today if your project requires better safety when digging. Old records and markings are not enough to guarantee safety. What your team requires is the most updated information regarding the identity and location of the water pipes, power lines, telecommunication cables, gas pipes, sewer lines and other objects underground.