Cleaning up mercury from a California lakebed is a complex process that requires close government regulatory oversight. But iPads have helped make the job much easier and efficient for E2 Consulting Engineers.
Since 2005, E2 Consulting Engineers has gathered samples of stormwater runoff and lake sediment as well as wet and dry weather inspections at the Sulphur Bank Mercury Mine near Clearlake Oaks and Clear Lake in Lake County, California (pictured below).
The 150-acre mine once produced mercury for industrial use (including during both World Wars) until the mine was closed in 1957. Years of water runoff from nearby streams and waterways impacted soil and wildlife in the lake enough that it prompted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to designate a portion of the area as a “Superfund” or toxic clean-up site.
E2 Consulting Engineers is now a primary contractor responsible for finalizing a construction plan to cap the contaminated sediment in two places taking up a total of a quarter of an acre. The reporting includes thousands of data points of which E2 must share its findings between a team of eight different regulatory agencies, seven subcontractors and 20 onsite engineers.
While laptops had been a part of filing daily reports, the introduction of iPads late last year has really streamlined the process, John Lucero, program manager at E2, told TabTimes.
The company has nearly two dozen iPads in its operation including three iPad Wi-Fi + 3G tablets ruggedized for engineers taking measurements in boats on the lake.
“We set up a diver in the water, positioning the survey pole, and someone is entering the information into the iPad up above,” Lucero said.
“Prior to our pilot testing, engineers would have been recording notes by hand, taking photos by hand, and then returning to the office and filing information by hand. It was a very manual system. Now they can key in measurements at the site, draw a sketch of the area if needed, take a photo of the area and that information is available to the entire team through the server without leaving the site.
"How efficient this is in dollars is hard to say, but we are able to be more productive in the field and cover more ground in a day than ever before.”
Because engineers needed a customized data entry form, Lucero says the iPads were equipped with FileMaker Go running custom forms developed using FileMaker Pro software. The apps also allow E2 to collaborate effectively among its own team as well as with various agencies and subcontractors.
The iPads were also equipped with exporting routines to AutoCAD, AutoCAD 3D and other rendering display systems so that E2 engineers could collaborate with the various teams and agencies who want to see the data in different formats.
“It’s a question of coordinating our processes with the government agencies,” Lucero said. “The Army Corp of Engineers needed us to show our progress in a very chronological way. They needed to see the definable features of our work and that the daily logs are defined, but the same data needs to be done in chronological fashion.”
Other agencies like the EPA were eager to receive their data, right up to the last entry that was made for the day, he added. In addition to capturing daily project logs, processing change orders and generating countless reports, E2’s team and partners have access to data faster than before. The tablet software also supports tiered access, which ensures the rights and privileges assigned to each support group and agency.
Going forward, Lucero noted E2 would use its iPad trials as an opportunity to increase mobile data mining of older information so engineers could spot trends and increase company workflows to improve decision-making on where to conduct testing while in the field.