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How sinkholes crash the underground fiber optic party

December 19, 2023

As the telecom world races towards better connectivity, underground fiber optic cables have become the go-to solution. However, this advancement comes with an unintended consequence – the potential risk of sinkholes. As these high-speed conduits burrow deeper into the earth, they intersect with a delicate subterranean balance, occasionally disrupting natural water flows and contributing to soil erosion. This can lead to the formation of sinkholes, presenting a new set of challenges for urban planners and telecommunication companies.

Join us as we dig into the complexities of underground fiber optic installations and their unintended environmental impacts, and how technology can aid in sinkhole repair and mitigation.

The underground fiber optic boom

The telecommunications sector is witnessing a significant shift with the growing adoption of underground fiber optic networks. This transition is driven by the need for more dependable and faster internet connectivity. Underground fiber optic cables, known for their high bandwidth and minimal signal degradation, are increasingly preferred for their resilience and reliability.

A key factor in the move toward underground installations is their reliability compared to aerial cables. NoaNet, a high-speed telecommunications provider, estimates underground fiber optic installations are ten times more reliable than aerial cables, particularly in areas prone to severe weather. This enhanced reliability is crucial as it ensures continuous, uninterrupted service.

The underground installation of fiber optics also aligns with urban development goals, offering a less visually intrusive alternative to overhead lines. Additionally, the protection from environmental elements extends the lifespan of these networks, making them a sustainable and cost-effective solution in the long term.

As underground fiber optic networks continue to expand, it is important to address the challenges that come with this technology, including sinkholes.

Sinkhole causes

As the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection points out, sinkholes are all about water. Changes in groundwater levels, whether through natural or human-induced alterations, can destabilize the underlying rock structure, potentially leading to sinkholes. Human influences, like the construction of underground utilities, can exacerbate these conditions by changing the natural flow of water and contributing to soil erosion.

When underground utilities are installed, they often involve backfilling with highly permeable materials like gravel. This can create a conduit for water, diverting significantly more water into existing underground voids. The increased water flow can accelerate the erosion process, leading to the collapse of these structures and the formation of sinkholes. In Bowling Green, Kentucky, for instance, the combination of construction activity and underground utility installation led to significant sinkhole development.

Understanding these risks is crucial for urban planners and engineers to mitigate the environmental impact of underground fiber optic installations. Adapting construction techniques and conducting thorough geological assessments can help prevent such unintended consequences, ensuring the sustainability of both the infrastructure and the environment.

Challenges for urban planners and telecom companies

The emergence of sinkholes in areas with underground fiber optic networks creates significant challenges for utilities. A crucial aspect of these challenges is efficient sinkhole repair, which is essential to maintain urban infrastructure and telecom services.

Impact on urban infrastructure and telecom services

Sinkholes can have a profound impact on urban infrastructure and telecommunications services. When a sinkhole occurs, it can lead to the collapse of roadways, disrupt utility services, and, in severe cases, cause damage to buildings and other structures. This not only leads to service interruptions but also necessitates costly repairs and rerouting of services.

The installation of underground utilities, especially in geologically sensitive areas, can lead to the collapse of subterranean cavities. This risk highlights the importance of meticulous assessment and ongoing monitoring throughout the planning and implementation phases of such projects. These steps are critical to preventing inadvertent disruptions and ensuring the stability of both the underground infrastructure and the surrounding environment.

Sinkhole on a concrete roadway - sinkhole repair

Managing sinkhole risks

The telecommunications sector must balance technological advancements with environmental concerns. This includes developing strategies for sinkhole repair as a key element of mitigating the impact of sinkholes on urban environments.

Effectively managing sinkhole risks requires a thorough, multi-stage approach that includes identification, examination, forecasting, and mitigation. The process begins with comprehensive sinkhole mapping integrated with various sources. These sources include historical and recent topographical maps, along with digital elevation models (DEMs). Enhancing these maps involves conducting structural damage surveys. It also involves applying remote sensing techniques and utilizing high-resolution geodetic measurements. All of this is done to accurately assess and address potential sinkhole risks.

The role of data collection technology in sinkhole management

In managing sinkholes resulting from underground fiber optic installations, digital data collection platforms like Fulcrum are crucial. They not only aid in identifying potential sinkhole areas but also streamline the sinkhole repair process, providing effective strategies for mitigation.

Comprehensive solution

Platforms like Fulcrum offer an integrated solution that extends beyond the identification of sinkholes. They enable detailed geomorphological mapping and field surveys by integrating diverse data sources. This amalgamation results in the creation of accurate sinkhole maps, essential for assessing risk and planning mitigation measures. In addition, cutting-edge data collection platforms provide real-time data-sharing features crucial for coordinating efforts among urban planners, engineers, and telecom companies.

From identification to remediation

GIS-first data collection platforms like Fulcrum are not limited to just identifying and mapping sinkholes. They are also instrumental in the sinkhole repair process. These platforms can guide repair teams to precise locations, provide historical and real-time data for assessing the extent of damage, and help in planning the repair process efficiently.

Fulcrum allows for the documentation of repair processes and progress tracking. It ensures that sinkhole remediation is carried out effectively and in compliance with safety standards and regulations. The platform’s ability to streamline communication between various stakeholders simplifies the complex process of sinkhole remediation. This applies from the initial assessment to final restoration.

In summary, GIS-first data collection platforms like Fulcrum are indispensable for underground fiber optic installations. They play a crucial role in addressing the challenges posed by sinkholes. These platforms facilitate not only the identification and assessment of potential sinkholes but also guide and document the repair process. By leveraging the capabilities of platforms like Fulcrum, stakeholders can ensure a more resilient and sustainable approach to urban infrastructure development and maintenance.

Talk to one of our experts

As underground fiber optic expansion continues, effectively managing sinkhole risks demands the right tools and expertise. At the forefront of this effort is Fulcrum’s GIS-first data collection platform, offering comprehensive solutions to identify and address issues related to sinkholes.

If you’re encountering challenges in telecommunications projects or seeking effective sinkhole risk management methods, consider your options. A tailored digital data collection strategy, like the one offered by Fulcrum, could be the solution you need. Connect with a Fulcrum expert today to learn firsthand how it can transform your approach to sinkhole repairs and urban infrastructure resilience.