What a Difference an App Makes
What a Difference an App Makes
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What a Difference an App Makes
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Software helps environmental monitors document and maintain construction compliance.

Southern California's desert tortoises can rest a little easier these days.

Managers on construction sites near the tortoises' nesting areas now have a mobile app that keeps project teams informed of the presence of threatened or endangered species.

The app — known as the Mobile Construction Monitoring Checklist — also helps reduce stress levels for the professionals responsible for monitoring environmental resources affected by large-scale construction.

"Any time we're required to obtain a permit for a project, that permit or approval typically includes detailed conditions that help mitigate any environmental damage construction could potentially cause," explains Dave Smith, Burns & McDonnell technology consulting manager for the Southern California region. Smith was one of the app's developers.

These conditions typically require daily tracking of and reporting on dozens of mitigation measures. On large projects, it is not unusual to employ 20, 30 or even 100 monitors who specialize in everything from avian biology to archaeological and paleontological studies. These specialists monitor the work within the construction zone to observe and report on any instances of noncompliance. The app helps monitors see what resources may be affected in specific project areas. The monitors can then associate their observations with a location, allowing others to view the compliance history of that work area and track corrective actions.

"In the old days, this information was written into notebooks," Smith says. "Days might pass before those notes were transcribed into formal reports. By the time the information made it to the people in the field to act on, it was often obsolete."

Government expectations, however, have increased along with the growth of technology and information access in our daily lives. Potential noncompliance issues now must be reported almost immediately.

Faster Communication

The Windows-based app streamlines data collection and distribution, delivering updated information to key project personnel in near-real time.

Using checkboxes and dropdown lists, monitors record their observations on a tablet with a built-in GPS system that pinpoints the location. The data can be securely transmitted using any Internet connection, and posted observations are immediately available for review by other monitors, as well as project leaders responsible for communicating with agency officials.

"The app enables us to quickly relay information that could affect construction," Smith says. "If an endangered desert tortoise is observed, we can alert construction teams that work cannot proceed in that area until the animal is moved. Then, the schedule can be adjusted to allocate crews to another work area, saving time and money."

Nesting birds are also a significant concern. "When a bird establishes a nest, we must curtail our work around them," Smith says. "The faster we can get this information to the construction team, the sooner construction schedules and work plans can be adjusted."

The app also improves reporting by automating the preparation of daily, weekly or monthly, environmental compliance reports. "The reports make it easy for regulators and project staff to compare one day's findings and actions to the next," Smith says. They also reduce the time monitors must spend creating these reports.

Collateral Benefits

The proprietary app has been customized for dozens of Burns & McDonnell projects. "It comes in especially handy on jobs that involve taking inventories or condition assessments," Smith says.

The app helps to remind everyone of the things they're doing right. "Historically, our environmental monitoring focused primarily on violations," Smith says. "This tool demonstrates that we're actively monitoring all construction activities. It documents all the ways that we are, in fact, in compliance."

For more information, contact Dave Smith at 858-320-2924.

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