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Protecting the environment — and public health — with mobile technology

October 14, 2020

Keeping up with ever-changing environmental regulations can be a challenge, but for environmental engineering firms, it’s paramount for serving their clients as well as preserving the environment. 

In fiscal year 2019, the Environmental Protection Agency required companies to invest more than $4.4 billion to control pollution (called injunctive relief) and pay more than $360 million in civil penalties. (1) 

Continuous, centralized recordkeeping is critical to ensuring compliance and avoiding penalties like these. 

That’s why today’s environmental engineering firms are adopting mobile technology to make sure they’re helping their clients meet state and federal regulations. It also helps them work more efficiently so they can complete more jobs in less time without sacrificing quality. 

For example, take the case of global environmental engineering firm Brown and Caldwell, which specializes in water and wastewater engineering. Adopting mobile technology in the field has enabled them to deliver results faster — and at a lower cost — to their customers. 

Here’s their story.

Tackling a pressing public health issue with paper

Brown and Caldwell was hired by DeKalb County, GA to inspect 60,000 manholes as part of a project to reduce sewer overflows in metro Atlanta. Sewer overflows can cause serious water quality problems and back-up into homes, which not only causes property damage, but can threaten public health. (2)

For the first half of the project, the engineers collected historical data and put it into their geographic information system (GIS), then exported it into paper map books that crews would use to try to locate the manholes. 

When inspecting the manholes, the engineers used paper forms to collect data on their condition, and took tens of thousands of photos with digital cameras that would later have to be matched up with the inspection records. Then, another team of surveyors equipped with GPS would follow to affirm the precise location and elevation of each of the structures. 

This was a huge, complicated undertaking, especially when it came to manholes in areas that had been redeveloped. And the longer the project took, the more Atlanta residents were at risk of being exposed to raw sewage.

Getting better, faster data with no-code mobile apps

For the second half of the project, Brown and Caldwell used Fulcrum’s no-code mobile data collection and workflow automation platform. With Fulcrum on the engineers’ mobile devices, the dots they had been trying to locate on paper maps were integrated with their GIS, and the photos they took were automatically associated with the correct assets. 

This enabled them to not only work faster in the field, but to save hours matching up photos to the right inspection records. What’s more, the inspection crews could adjust the location of manholes if they needed to, so they were easier to find for the survey crew that followed. 

All of this information was stored in one central database, where anyone with permission could instantly access it directly from their smartphone, tablet, or the Fulcrum web dashboard. 

And though they were working with their mobile devices, the crews didn’t have to worry about whether WiFi or cellular service was available at any given site. With Fulcrum’s offline data-collection capabilities, records are simply stored on the mobile device until connectivity is reached. 

Once the project was complete, Brown and Caldwell estimated that it took them 30% fewer hours to manage and QA their data, meaning the sewer overflows could be addressed that much faster. 

Want to learn how you can leverage technology to streamline your field inspections to improve compliance, quality, and safety? Download the ebook Top Opportunities to Modernize Your Field-based Inspection Processes!

  1. https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2020-02/documents/fy19-enforcement-annual-results-data-graphs.pdf
  2. https://www.epa.gov/npdes/sanitary-sewer-overflows-ssos