3 Perspectives on Utility Scanning Best Practices

Utility Scanning Best Practices

Today, we wanted to take some time to talk about utility scanning best practices. But we didn’t want to tackle this topic alone because it’s a big one, and best practices are so subjective. So, we called in a couple of technicians to help us out.

Here are some best practices for utility scanning according to three different ground penetrating radar and utility scanning practitioners: Ferry van den Oever, Simon Ankor, and of course, us! We’re keeping everyone’s tips anonymous so you can guess who said what at the end.

Tips from Contributor #1

1. Keep in mind that the person in the field should be the one doing the processing and interpreting.

This rule is especially valuable when dealing with geological and archaeological surveys. Too often, bosses think they should leave the fieldwork to the young, enthusiastic starters, who also just so happen to be the hourly-wage earners. However, this isn’t always the best approach because quality should come before margins, and it takes experience to interpret a GPR survey in real time. With certain jobs, critical metadata can get lost if too many people are involved, so send the experienced ones out to do the interpreting.

2. Before firing up your toys, spend time checking out your site.

Captain Obvious, I know—but still. Familiarizing yourself with the location is critical when utility scanning.

3. Educate your client honestly about the possibilities AND impossibilities.

Honesty is so important. Being honest with your client is the best way to ensure they come back again for future jobs.

4. Don’t be afraid to share information with the competition, even if the job was botched!

We can learn from each other’s experiences, and in doing so, we are able to elevate near-surface geophysics as both a science and a business. However, this requires that we collaborate, meaning if we want to advance the ground penetrating radar field, we have to be willing to play nice with competing GPR businesses.

5. I always—well, almost always—try to utilize a combination of techniques for archaeology jobs.

For example, I’ll implement EMI+MAG, or EMI+GPR, or GPR+MAG, or GPR+EMI. The combinations are endless, and it’s great because using a combination of techniques really enhances the overall quality of the GPR survey.

6. When riding your quad in the open field, SING AS LOUD AS POSSIBLE !!!! 

Because how often are you alone in an open field, right?

7. Never forget that existing utility maps have a truth percentage somewhere between 0 and 100%.

You can use them as a starting point, but don’t depend on them for accuracy.

Advice from Contributor #2

So, I think the most important aspect of utility scanning is to have a solid process. Keep in mind that the process might be a bit different from country to country, person to person, and even job to job.

For Australia, at least, the process for most utility scanning jobs looks like this:

  • Step 1: Get plans, aerial imagery, historical documentation, and any other information you can about the site.
  • Step 2: Do a thorough visual inspection of the area surrounding your scope of work.
  • Step 3: Locate the known services with EM and ground penetrating radar.
  • Step 4: Perform passive, inductive, and GPR sweeps for unknown services, and then trace them to endpoints for identification.
  • Step 5: Check the plans and other information you have. Then, conduct another thorough walk-through.
  • Step 6: Make sure you know what the client expects in terms of deliverables and make sure you deliver them.

As long as you know what you’re doing and have a plan that provides structure for your work, I think you’re setting yourself up for a successful job.  

Best Practices from Contributor #3

1. Communication is Key. One of the most important aspects of successfully locating a buried target is excellent communication. The customer, the property owner, and the utility locator must maintain open lines of communication from the beginning to the end of the project.  

2. Gather all of the information. The utility locator needs access to as much information about the site as possible. The more a utility locator knows about the site, the more accurate and efficient the utility locate process will be.

3. Familiarize yourself with the site. A thorough site walk, preferably with someone who has information about the subsurface, is imperative before commencement of the fieldwork.

4. Confirm your findings. Whenever possible, a utility locator should confirm any findings with at least two technologies. For example, GPR and an EM pipe locating wand are often very complimentary. I try to always use at least two. This might cause a job to take a little longer, but the increased levels of quality and accuracy are well worth avoiding a line strike!

5. Network. I am a firm believer in the power of networking. I always have a few people I can contact for second opinions and troubleshooting. So, if you’ve hired a utility locator, understand that he may go back and forth with numerous tools while assessing your site. They might call a colleague as well for additional professional input on the job at hand.

6. Check your work. Upon completion of the job, the customer and utility locator will want to walk through the site to address any questions, ensure that the scope was completed, and sign paperwork before closing out the project.

For small projects, two site walks—one at the beginning and one at the end—are generally sufficient. For larger projects, performing periodic inspections is prudent.

7. Be clear on expectations. Many customers want nothing more than paint marks on the ground and they might not have any use for utility maps. Others may require a written report for documentation, a CAD overlay, or even a licensed professional land surveyor (PLS) to shoot in the marks on the ground’s surface.

Whatever the case may be, it’s important to clarify expectations regarding the timeline for completion. No one wants to have a successful on-site project ruined by an incomplete or late deliverable.

Understanding Utility Scanning

If you’re a professional in construction, engineering, or related trades, we hope this article has helped better inform you about the utility scanning process. When looking to hire a utility scanning technician to use ground penetrating radar on your job site, these best practices are a great place to start. Use these tips to inform the questions that you ask a potential vendor to ensure you’re hiring a skilled professional who will conduct the most thorough and accurate scan possible.

As you can see, every technician has their own approaches and eccentricities to utility scanning. We can all agree, though, that it’s important to thoroughly check out the land before beginning the job, as well as communicate honestly and transparently with customers.

If you’re new to the field and wondering, “How does ground penetrating radar work?” or you’re curious about what it takes to run a successful job, we hope these tips gave you some clarity. Ultimately, in this field, it’s less about competing and more about collaborating. No single technician is more capable than all of us combined. 

Were you able to guess which technician said what? Tell us your guesses and share your thoughts with us on LinkedIn!

Special thanks to Ferry from Saricon B.V. and Simon from Veris for contributing to this piece. If you’d like to contribute to one of our future blogs, reach out. We’d love to collaborate by learning from you, and advancing in this field together.

Give us a call: 951-783-2483