Rebounding from disaster can be a long and arduous process for property owners and utility companies. Whether natural or accidental, wide-scale damage to above ground structures and terrain can make the task of subsurface utility recovery and maintenance a significantly more difficult task for companies using dated technology and traditional mapping methods.
Compounding this problem is the issue of inefficient above ground recovery efforts, which can often result in damage to utility assets still in working order.
Because of the sometimes astronomical costs to utility companies working in areas found to be at risk for disasters, investing in new solutions to the problems associated with underground asset recovery can lighten financial burdens and improve overall system efficiency even during normal conditions.
Circumventing traditional post-disaster asset locating issues
One of the most significant issues facing utility companies after a destructive disaster is the task of locating buried utilities. Traditional mapping and in-the-field techniques often utilize real-world geographic landmarks as a means of positioning assets relative to one another.
After disaster strikes, these landmarks may be completely destroyed or covered by debris. As a result, teams are forced to excavate larger swaths of terrain based on general estimations rather than more definite positions. This can quickly become expensive given the additional threat to nearby utilities caught in the crossfire.
These issues can be exacerbated when multiple utility agencies are involved in recovery efforts. The most common scenario usually involves both public and private entities working simultaneously to assess, service or recover utility assets in close proximity to one another. Miscommunication and poor planning ahead of time can result in further complications and operational delays.
A solution with RFID and GPS integration
Recent research into a solution to these problems using both radio frequency identification (RFID) and GPS technology in tandem has provided industry leaders with what looks to be a promising answer to these issues.
Researchers at the Geospatial Research and Applications Center (GRAC) at Auburn University recently conducted real-world tests into how these systems can overcome the problems of location estimations and asset detection under debris conditions.
Using the InfraMarker, a three-tiered system utilizing both GPS and RFID technology to first approximate general asset locations and then target and identify specific utility assets, researchers concluded that such a system greatly improved overall efficiency when it came to finding buried assets under stressful conditions.
Given initial due diligence steps needed to implement the tagging infrastructure, positioning information from the InfraMarker can then be used to generate expansive digital mapping tools for precise referencing when disaster conditions arise.
Specifically, RFID/GPS mapping systems present a solution for utility companies using hardware such as cable tracers to locate and identify buried assets. While tracer pedestals often damaged or destroyed during disasters can result in systemic problems for asset recovery operations, RFID tags are constructed specifically to withstand adverse weather and long-term deployment underground.