Geotechnical Illustrated: Good Vibrations or Not?

Heavy construction in densely populated cities can be conducted near neighboring buildings. Vibrations induced by such heavy construction are one of the most claimed causes of adjacent building damage. These vibrations can be generated by multiple types of equipment such as pavement breakers, excavators, or pile drivers. Such activities can generate short term vibrations or contribute to longer periods of increased vibration levels.

Property owners experiencing construction-induced vibrations may file claims for nuisance or cosmetic/architectural and structural damages. Since the vibration threshold for nuisance is typically lower than the threshold to cause any damage, property owners may express concerns about vibrations that are not substantial enough to damage their property. During the COVID-19 era, more residents stay and work from home, giving a rise to construction-induced vibration claims.

Construction activities cause vibrations of various amplitudes and frequencies that propagate within the subsoils. The waves propagated through the soils typically attenuate with distance. Wave attenuation is caused by geometric and material damping. Geometric damping is caused by the spreading of the wave front over an increasing area. Material damping is caused by energy converted to thermal energy within the subsoils. The attenuation of vibrations with distance is typically estimated by a straight line in a double logarithmic plot of peak particle velocity (PPV) versus distance.

Construction vibrations are typically a nuisance to residents; however, many times they can contribute to property damage. Ground vibrations may be of sufficient magnitude to cause direct damage to structures. The magnitude of vibrations that causes damage varies with the type and the vibration response of the structure. For example, generally historic buildings are more sensitive to vibrations compared to modern residential or commercial buildings. Vibration damage can vary from threshold damage such as paint loosening, or minor damage such as masonry cracks to major damage that can cause structural weakening and distress. Various levels of threshold PPVs have been evaluated in the industry for different structures and damage levels. For example, Caltrans (2004) has proposed threshold PPVs as low as 0.12 inches per second for extremely fragile historic buildings to 2 inches per second for modern industrial buildings.

Vibrations can also cause indirect damage. For example, they can cause densification of loose soils beneath buildings, resulting in differential settlements. Vibrations can also cause partial loss of strength of loose saturated subgrade soils and hence contribute to loss of bearing capacity. Both for densification and for partial loss of strength to occur, a sufficient shear strain within the subsoils should be triggered (i.e., threshold shear strain) and enough vibration cycles should occur.

Vibration levels can be measured by geophones (i.e., velocimeters) or accelerometers. Geophones have been traditionally used in construction and is a proven technology. Accelerometers historically were less effective for the lower frequencies of construction vibrations, however modern accelerometers may be competitive with geophones. Such devices can relate to data collection systems, which automatically stream data to interfaces such as Geocomp’s iSiteCentral® portal. Such systems can also automatically provide text or email alerts to all involved stakeholders.

The vibration data measured at a site can be compiled, and over-laid with a series of other data such as aerial imagery, property parcels, tax assessor information, city maps, surface elevations or others. These publicly available geospatial data and project specific data, including damage claim data, can be combined within GIS software to create an incredibly robust tool to efficiently perform sophisticated analyses of damage claims. Once the data are input in a GIS system, the user can create graphics and statistics that allow for analysis of the specific issues of each property. Moreover, the graphics produced can become very compelling exhibits in a dispute (e.g., court exhibits). 

Compiled publicly available geospatial data and project specific data, along with any pre and post construction surveys of any adjacent buildings are efficiently analyzed to answer both simple and more complicated questions such as:

  1. Are construction activities sufficiently close to cause damage to the subject property? An overlay of construction drawings, field records, along with aerial photos allows for estimation of the distance of the subject property and the limits of various construction activities such as pavement removal, excavations, and pavement compaction with private buildings and improvements.
  2. Can construction-induced vibrations contribute to the claimed conditions? A geospatial overlay of the measured peak vibration levels can indicate whether significant vibrations occurred within a construction period and at what distances from the subject properties.
  3. Are there any effects of non-construction activities that need to be considered? For example, has the damaged property ever been flooded from a large flooding event? A simple overlay of the property and an inundation map could show if that ever occurred. Can vegetation affect the measured cracking within a building? An overlay of a city-wide tree map and aerial imagery can show whether any trees exist that can contribute to this damage mechanism. 

Fortunately, many effects of construction vibrations can be mitigated. If damage in a building is claimed due to construction vibrations, then the above mechanisms can be investigated to demonstrate cause-and-effect.


Antonios Vytiniotis is the Director/Group Lead of the Massachusetts Consulting Group at Geocomp. Antonios has wide experience in evaluating and mitigating damages from machine and construction vibrations.

Geotechnical Illustrated: What is your CPT Test Really Telling You?

In many cases with offshore filling construction, such as building and forming artificial islands in the middle of a body of water, borrow areas of suitable seabed materials must be first identified. A comprehensive soil investigation will subsequently help assess the suitability of the potential seabed borrow material to be dredged and used for engineering purposes.  Some of the seabed in areas around the world consist of carbonate sand that may have shell fragments within its matrix composition. Shell fragments contribute to carbonate content that may be in the order of 90% or more. This specific soil composition can influence the measurements obtained by in-situ soil testing techniques.

One of the most commonly used in-situ techniques to assess soil strength, especially in offshore applications, is cone penetration tests (CPT). The most important measurement obtained from CPT is the cone penetration resistance, which is the force required to push the tip of the cone through the soil of interest and is defined in ASTM D: 5778.  However, most of the standardized in-situ testing techniques, such as CPT, have been commonly calibrated to interpret soil properties for soils found onshore, such as silica sands.

After reclamation of an artificial island using carbonate sands, CPT can be used to assess its strength to carry loads for engineering purposes. However, a correction factor is required to adjust the measured tip resistance so that correlations developed for silica sands can be used for the carbonate deposits. This correction factor is called the Shell Correction Factor (F shell) and has been extensively studied by researchers around the world.  The Shell Correction Factor is the ratio between cone tip resistance of silica sand to cone tip resistance of carbonate sand. F shell commonly varies from 1.2 to 1.6 depending on the relative density of the sand.

So, don’t just pick up some standard correlations to interpret your CPT results. Make sure you understand the soil’s composition and its effects on engineering properties. 


Assem Elsayed is the Vice President and Practice Area Leader of GeoStructural Engineering at Geocomp. Assem has extensive experience with waterfront and marine structures, design of monopiles for wind farms, and support of deep excavation.

Geotechnical Illustrated: Risks of Spudcan Punch-through

Jack up rigs are used widely in offshore drilling and for offshore wind turbine installation. Such rigs can be often times supported by spudcan footings such as the ones shown below. However, there are multiple challenges in evaluating the capacity of such footings.

Punch-through of spudcan legs for offshore barges is defined as rapid uncontrolled barge leg penetration into the seabed.  Such an event could result in catastrophic damage and even loss of lives such as the one shown in the figure below. 

Accident Aboard Pemex Jack-Up, Bay of Campeche, Mexico, Picture Credit: Reuters, May 5, 2015

Spudcan legs jacked against seabed that is made of interbedded soil layers creates a recipe for potential punch-through.  In addition, the presence of a strong soil layer on top of a weak layer can contribute to sometimes unaccounted for punch-through.  These risks can be quantified using a probabilistic approach as a decision-making tool.

Barges are typically proof-loaded by vertical preloading through water ballasting prior to being operational, in order to obtain a safety margin against extreme storm design events.  It is a common practice to assess the potential for barge leg penetration into the seabed using both lower and upper bound soil parameters. This analysis requires engineering judgment to choose the right soil parameters based on the available soil information using a deterministic approach.  A more informative methodology is to perform a quantitative probabilistic study taking into account all possible variable soil data as well as other uncertainties. Insurance companies may be more willing to insure a project once the risks of failure are properly quantified.

A probabilistic analysis can be performed easily when the variability of soil properties or other input parameters is known. The most common approach is to assume that a normal distribution with a specified mean value and a standard deviation of a parameter, based on the available geotechnical information, can accurately represent the “randomness” of such input parameters. The parameters can be soil properties such as undrained shear strength and friction angle, or geometry parameters (e.g., soil layer thickness).

Such analyses can be commonly performed with simple random number generator tools, two way data tables (What-if Analysis) in tools like Excel. A common way to incorporate probabilistic data from multiple variables is a Monte Carlo simulation. Via this simulation, a cumulative probability distribution function of the spudcan footing’s factor of safety can be determined. An example of such a cumulative probability curve is shown in the figure below. An engineer, a project owner, or an insurance agent can then be able to better represent the uncertainty in the factor of safety calculation. For example, in the schematic below, there is only a 20% probability for the factor of safety to be less than 2, and a 90% probability that the factor of safety is less than 3.

This simple probabilistic approach can be applied to any engineering equation to quantify the associated results in a simple risk language.  


Assem Elsayed is the Vice President and Practice Area Leader of GeoStructural Engineering at Geocomp. Assem has extensive experience with waterfront and marine structures, design of monopiles for wind farms, and support of deep excavation.

How to Prevent Ransomware Attacks on Your Business

If you haven’t recently heard, cybercrime and ransomware are at an all-time high across all industries. With business after business getting hacked, it is more important than ever to tighten up your security.

When it comes to cyber-attacks, it is not a question of if, rather of when.

To begin, let us cover the basics…

What is Cybercrime?

Cybercrime is criminal activity that either targets an individual computer or a network to perform activity that causes serious disruptions to the end user or business. There are quite a few types of cybercrime. To name a few:

  • Email and internet fraud (phishing)
  • Identity fraud (personal information is stolen and used)
  • Ransomware attacks (demanding money)
  • RDP compromise
  • Vulnerability exploit (scanning of networks to identify weak systems and taking control)
  • Account takeover or identity theft.

In 2020, the most common type of cybercrime as reported to the U.S. Internet Crime Complaint Center was phishing and similar fraud, with 241,342 complaints. In addition, 43,330 cases of online identity theft were reported to the IC3 that year.

Cybercrime takes many forms, and not all of them are something new, it just got easier and more widespread with new technologies. It is very important that we, both in our personal life and in our professional one, are mindful of these and other cybercrimes and keep an eye open, especially in a time of crisis (such as the COVID-19 global pandemic) when wrongdoers proliferate.

What Harm Does Cybercrime do to Firms?

Cybercrime leads to several negative effects on your business including:

  • Reputation loss
  • Financial loss
  • Intellectual property loss
  • Loss of customer confidence
  • Legal implications
  • Loss of goodwill

Report Cybercrime to Appropriate Agency

If you are the victim of online or internet-enabled crime, file a report as soon as possible. Crime reports are used for investigative and intelligence purposes. Rapid reporting can also help support the recovery of lost funds.

HOW TO RECOGNIZE & PREVENT CYBERCRIME

Be Smart.

Be Aware.

Be Responsible.

The Stop. Think. Connect™ campaign encourages all Americans to recognize these three common cybercrimes and to follow simple steps to protect yourself.

Identity theft is the illegal use of someone else’s personal information in order to obtain money or credit. How will you know if you’ve been a victim of identity theft? You might get bills for products or services you did not purchase. Your bank account might have withdrawals you didn’t expect or unauthorized charges.

Phishing attacks use email to collect personal and financial information or infect your machine with malware and viruses. Cybercriminals use legitimate-looking emails that encourage people to click on a link or open an attachment. The email they send can look like it is from an authentic financial institution, e-commerce site, government agency, or any other service or business.

Imposter scams happen when you receive an email or call seemingly from a government official, family member, or friend requesting that you wire them money to pay taxes or fees, or to help someone you care about. Cybercriminals use legitimate looking emails that encourage people to send them money or personal information.

SIMPLE TIPS

  • Keep a clean machine. Update the security software and operating system on your computer and mobile devices often. Keeping the software on your devices up to date will prevent attackers from taking advantage of known vulnerabilities.
  • When in doubt, do not click. Stop and think before you open attachments or click links in emails. Links in email, instant message, and online posts are often the way cybercriminals compromise your computer. If it looks suspicious, it is best to delete it.
  • Use stronger authentication. Always opt to enable stronger authentication when available, especially for accounts with sensitive information including your email or bank accounts. A stronger authentication helps verify a user has authorized access to an online account. Visit www.lockdownyourlogin.com for more information on stronger authentication.
  • Consider sharing less online. Including information like your birthdate and the city where you live on your social media profiles can give criminals a more complete picture and make it easier for them to steal your identity.
  • Take advantage of security settings. On your smartphone, tablet, or computer – use PINs or passcodes to protect someone from easily accessing all your information. For social media websites and apps, be aware of your privacy settings and change them to your comfort level so only the people you want to see information can see it.

The best advice an IT professional can give is as follows:

  1. Educate users periodically and keep them informed frequently of cyber activity on the net.
  2. Create a strong password. Passwords should be at least eight characters long, including at least one numerical value and a symbol. You should most definitely avoid common words and never disclose a password to anyone.
  3. Here’s a tough one – never select the “Remember My Password” option. It can be hard to remember a million passwords for various accounts and saving passwords can be super convenient, but you have to be cautious.
  4. Never click on a link from an untrusted source. At Geocomp, we test our employees routinely through Mimecast to see if they can tell if a linked source is secure or not.
  5. Of course, any device should have an antivirus software installed and is important to make sure it’s updated regularly.
  6. Unless you are expecting an attachment in an email, refrain from opening it! Ransomware activity via email phishing using Microsoft Office document attachments is very common.

IT Responsibilities

Information is so accessible these days, that it is becoming easier for hackers to get access and harder for us to prevent. In order to protect your company, you need to do the following:

  • Deploy an IP auto shun device
  • Install a corporate high availability firewall
  • Install a content filtering Barracuda appliance
  • Use SSL certificates to internet facing websites
  • Restrict access to confidential information (Accounting, Finance, Pay roll and HR)
  • Implement Antivirus and Antispam software on end points
  • Backup business data. Most importantly test the backup jobs by performing a restore operation.
  • Identify critical data and ensure data is off network for a defined period.
  • Define recovery point (RPO) and recovery time (RTO) objectives
  • Replicate certain critical systems to ensure business continuity
  • Have a standby generator to supply power in the event of extended period of loss of power from utility
  • Explore cloud providers and costs associated with such providers.

Janakirama (Ramu) Bollapragada is the Senior IT Manager at Geocomp and has been with the company for almost 16 years. He is a certified Microsoft Systems Engineer and Information Technology Information Library (ITIL) foundation certificate holder with several years of experience in all aspects of IT management, especially in corporate infrastructure that streamlines system operations and optimizes productivity.

The Top Three Project Plan Documents to Drive Success

What to do when you have no time to plan!

The importance of project planning cannot be overstated. The Planning Phase offers the most significant opportunity to save time, resources, and money. 

The main purpose of developing a Project Management Plan (PMP) is to break down the broad goals of the contract into manageable tasks that can be understood by team members, sponsors, and clients.  A well-constructed PMP also provides the project manager and sponsor with an accurate means of measuring job progress and an early warning of possible problems and delays.  When completed, it becomes the “road map” for the project to be distributed, followed, referred to, and updated as required.

Given how important planning appears to be and it’s direct connection to project success1, it’s a given that project managers take the time to create complete plans for every project, right?

In reality, PMs are frequently tasked with managing multiple high-profile projects simultaneously, some of which they inherited part way through, jumping from meeting to meeting while balancing deliverable development, procurement, invoicing, and employee training. Many PMs are also technical leads for their projects and balance these two roles concurrently. With all these competing responsibilities and the perpetual needs in the present, it can be a great challenge finding the time to flesh out a Project Management Plan. Most unfortunate is that this problem can feed upon itself, creating a negative feedback loop that I refer to as, “The Leakage Spiral.” 

In essence, a lack of planning leads to leakage (inefficiencies, rework, or unpaid out of scope work). Leakage in turn leads to project delays and unhappy clients, which leads to increased resource needs and stress, finally leading to no time to properly close out the project, perform lessons learned, or properly plan the next project. And on and on it goes, always working behind the 8-ball.

So how do we course correct? Like anything else, it presents a great challenge when you have to pull out of a rut. How can you imagine doing a split when you can’t even touch your toes?  A complete Project Management Plan can easily consist of 10+ subdocuments, each detailing different aspects of the project. This may prove too daunting a challenge if you find yourself stuck in one of these downward spirals and time is too difficult to come by. In this instance, I recommend you take all the time you can muster, enlist the help of other managers, your project team, sponsors, executives, and your Project Management Office, and start with a basic Project Management Plan. Prioritize the following three documents to make the most profound and lasting impact on the health of the project, and ultimately to save yourself time in the long run.

These are my top three project plan documents to drive project success:

Risk Register

The Risk Register2 is arguably the most important component of any functioning PMP. Sometimes referred to as a risk log, the register is a document that allows the PM to identify, catalogue, quantify, respond to, and track risks to your project. Industry metrics indicate that as many as 90% of project threats that are identified and managed through the Risk Management process can be eliminated3. This is incredibly significant and can in and of itself make or break a project.  Moreover, if you’ve gone through this exercise and a risk you’ve identified actually occurs, you already have a plan, an approach, and you know how to deal with it. This saves you and your team from unnecessary stress and lost time. 

Communication Plan

During the execution phase of a project, when the deliverables are actually getting produced and most of the project work is occurring, a PM spends 75 – 90% of their time communicating4. This can be a particular challenge when the PM is also a technical lead on a project. It can be a real struggle to wear both hats, but if you’re a PM, you need to be able to perform your PM responsibilities, no matter what the technical challenges. 

The Communication Plan is essentially a “who, what, when, how, why” document, dedicated entirely to project communications. Beyond simply documenting, “The team will have a project meeting once a week,” a well-developed Communication Plan gives comfort to both project managers and important stakeholders alike. When crafting the Communication Plan, a PM should ask stakeholders what their communication requirements are and subsequently have the stakeholders review and approve the plan. Over the course of the project, if the Communication Plan is adhered to, a PM will not have to field unnecessary questions from stakeholders or sponsors, and stakeholders in turn will not feel anxious about silence from the PM – everyone has an understanding of when and how information will be communicated. In the long run, a Communication Plan saves time, money, and headaches.

Project Charter

The Charter is the front page of the Project Plan. It summarizes all the information from the different plan documents you’ve created (the scope, schedule, budget, assumptions, notable stakeholders, and high level risks). In broad strokes, it spells out not just the project’s scope, but also the company’s goals and objectives for the project (which can vary from the scope itself). 

So if all this information exists elsewhere, why bother creating the Charter at all?  Aren’t we just regurgitating information? Simply stated, by laying out the project goals and objectives in a prominent (front page) manner, the Charter can and should act as a guiding document for the PM and the team. 

It can actually be surprisingly difficult to summarize the scope of a complex project into only a few sentences, but there’s value in the exercise.  If a project gets too far afield or if the project team or manager gets tunnel vision and scope creep starts to develop, reviewing the charter can bring the project back into focus quickly.  The defining characteristic of a Project Charter is that it is distributed to each team member and a hard copy is signed by everyone.  A little cheesy, maybe, but by having each team member sign their name, it is expected people will more fully commit to their role on the project and the project’s success.

So when you’re pressed for time and battling a constant barrage of problems, setbacks, and roadblocks, how do you reorient yourself? As best you can, squeeze out enough time to develop these three simple documents.  More than any other project plan component, the Risk Register, Communication Plan, and Project Charter provide the most universal and lasting impact. If developed and implemented consistently, they will protect you from unnecessary stress, save you time, and they will drive project success.  


David Whall is Geocomp’s Project Management Office Manager, having joined Geocomp in 2012.  As a Registered Project Management Professional (PMP), he leads the development and implementation of new Project Management processes, designed to increase Geocomp’s efficiency, profitability, and enhance the value we provide to our clients.


[1] Serrador, P. (2012). The importance of the planning phase to project success. Paper presented at PMI® Global Congress 2012—North America, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute. <https://www.pmi.org/learning/library/importance-planning-phase-project-success-6021&gt;.

[2] Ray, S. (2017). Guide to Using a Risk Register. <https://www.projectmanager.com/blog/guide-using-risk-register&gt;.

[3] Dinu, C. (2011). Risk governance: creating a risk superstructure for projects. Paper presented at PMI® Global Congress 2011—EMEA, Dublin, Leinster, Ireland. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute. <https://www.pmi.org/learning/library/risk-management-project-life-cycle-6274&gt;.

[4] Fontein, D. (2020). Building Effective Communication Skills: A Guide for Project Managers. <https://unito.io/blog/communication-skills-for-project-managers/&gt;.

How Automated Geotechnical Testing Can Help in Today’s Laboratories

Commercial and academic geotechnical testing labs traditionally have required considerable time and effort to manually apply and monitor loads and pressures, adjust valves and regulators, and record data on paper (Figure 1A). Each of these time-consuming steps is prone to human error and operator subjectivity (not to mention some very late nights/early mornings in the lab) yet can all be solved with automation. New and established technologies are available to allow geotechnical engineers, teachers and researchers to achieve faster, more accurate results without a big budget. Fully automated systems (Figure 1B) are more beneficial than ever to perform tests to determine consolidation, permeability, shear strength and dynamic properties of soils.

Figure 1A: Traditional Method (3 manual test stations) Figure 1B: Modern Method (1 automated station replaces 5 manual stations)

Considering much has changed over the last 20-30 years in terms of project expectations and modern learning, the benefit of automated systems is clear. Simply put, projects now demand rapid results and students are adapted to modern electronics and quick feedback. Fast, high quality laboratories become big players in design/build teams with increasing demand for quick results in order to move projects forward. Increasingly complex designs require more detailed models and input parameters which is increasing demand for higher volumes of quality results. Reliable and on time data also plays an important role in protecting against claims, legal action, and answering public demand for minimal negative impact from construction.

In university labs, professors can have students spend valuable time concentrating on soil behavior, understanding basic principles of geotechnical engineering, and learning more about the current real-world application of sensor technology, electronics and software.  For today’s students living in a world tuned to limited attention span, this is crucial for maintaining their interest rather than spending hours reading dials and manually adjusting loads and pressures.

Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly impacted operations of labs across the globe. Many universities have transitioned to remote learning and commercial labs are dealing with safe work environment constraints and social distancing guidelines. As labs continue to evolve and adapt to what many expect will be permanent changes, automated lab testing systems for soil, rock and geosynthetics offer a broad range of benefits. Modern geotechnical lab equipment can perform tests unsupervised and be controlled remotely by internet connection. This reduces the number of people in the lab at one time, allows amazing flexibility for technicians to monitor & adjust parameters and helps keep students learning interactively from a distance. Moreover, researchers who may now not have consistent access to labs can confidently run multiple tests in less time to more comprehensively assess theories and produce publications.

Here are my top takeaways on using automated geotechnical laboratory equipment:

  1. Faster, more reliable data that reduces risk, increases client satisfaction, and enhances research.
  2. Allows 24/7 testing and access to ongoing tests and results from anywhere.
  3. Offers students a modern learning approach and experience with state-of-the-art technology.
  4. Affords users and employers a safe and highly productive environment.
  5. Instant, electronic reports of data are quick and easy to distribute to clients or analyze in class.

If you have any questions about product capabilities, please reach out to me for more information. At Geocomp, we manufacture and sell our fully automated, versatile testing systems and offer advanced test services in-house at our geotechnical testing laboratory, (GeoTesting Express). Our lab operates over 100 fully automated units producing thousands of tests per year with only 2 primary technicians.  Modern equipment can have a major positive impact on your lab and the people in it.  Strongly consider it as you look for ways to enhance your university lab or grow your business.


Brian Jones is our Global Products Sales Manager, having joined Geocomp in 2018 with an extensive background in geological and geophysical consulting along with 11 years of sales experience in high-tech equipment for engineering applications. He has a B.S. degree in Geoscience from Boston College and is a member of various industry associations and societies. Brian leads and executes the strategic growth of our product sales by managing our domestic sales team and network of international partners, implementing marketing & communication projects, exploring new markets, client engagement, and developing competitive strategies.

Time for an Audit? Don’t Panic!

Audits are a necessary “evil” that we all must endure when working in a geotechnical testing laboratory. Audits can be from an outside accreditation agency, a client for a specific project or simply an internal audit for quality review purposes. The scope of the audit may be a review of your quality system but it may also include specific tests that your laboratory performs.

Getting prepared is an essential part of a successful outcome of the audit process. Start with the who, what, where, when and why questions – and review the quality documents that cover those answers.

  • Who will work with the auditor? Check their training record for the tests they will demonstrate and make sure it is up to date. 
  • What equipment and materials will be required? Check that the equipment is in good condition and has a current calibration record. Also obtain a test specimen to use that will demonstrate the best possible test. Be sure to include all general equipment to be used including the oven, scale, measuring devices as well as the unique equipment for that test.
  • Where will the demonstration occur? Find a clean appropriate place, within the correct ambient temperature requirements for the test to be demonstrated.
  •  When will the audit take place? Make sure the technician is prepared, has brushed up on the test method and is ready to perform.  
  • Why? Being prepared will better ensure a positive outcome. Don’t be nervous and chat about the test, you might shoot yourself in the proverbial foot.  If you must chat, talk about a trip, sports or the weather – anything else. Answer the questions the auditor asks but keep it short and concise. If you can’t remember or do not know the answer, now is not the time to start inventing or reinventing procedures. Do what you would normally do, look it up or ask advice from an experienced technician or even your manager. Auditors appreciate seeing that you know enough to ask for help, when necessary. Auditors also know that people get nervous while being watched. It will be okay!

Audits can cover the testing procedures, but some will also cover your overall Quality System that you have in place for your daily operations. For these types of audits, remember the auditor is using your Quality Manual to check that your operations are actually “what you say you do,” as outlined; they will ask for records to verify. The Quality Manual follows the guidelines required in oversight documents that recommend how a reputable facility will operate. They cover a wide range of the activities involved in the operation of the business. These include but are not limited to:

  • Contracts
  • Purchasing
  • Non-conforming items
  • Corrective action
  • Preventative action
  • Calibration of Material Testing Equipment (MTE) including intervals
  • Training
  • Procedures
  • Management oversight
  • Management reviews

Check that your documents are readily available and up to date.

As someone who has gone through this process countless times, year after year, my advice in preparing for an audit is as follows:

  1. Relax, you know what you are doing.
  2. Relax, your records are up to date.
  3. Relax, your technicians are experienced and well trained.
  4. Relax, the auditor is always there to help.
  5. Relax, an auditor finding issues will in the long run make your laboratory stronger.
  6. Relax, you will gain knowledge and move ahead more confident than before.
  7. Take the auditor out to lunch and have a few laughs.

Nancy J. Hubbard is a Project Manager for GeoTesting Express and has been with the company for 21 years. Nancy has a BS in Civil Engineering from WPI and a ME(C) in Geotechnical Engineering and Geology from Cornell University. Nancy provides a key role in the lab working with and maintaining the Automated Testing Equipment, Quality System, and provides training, reporting and answering technical questions for employees in both the Acton and Atlanta GTX Labs, and for clients as well. Nancy is an active member of the ASTM D18 Committee which covers Soil and Rock Testing Standards and Methods.

Why is it Important to Monitor Bridges?

Asset management, maintenance, repair, rehab – all of these decisions need to be made about structures using engineering knowledge and available data. When data is insufficient, lacking, or incorrect, decisions can’t be made, costing asset owners money and valuable resources. From my experience, attaining a return on investment through structural health monitoring and instrumentation can be achieved by creating a targeted program to meet the end goals of a structure. In order to assess if monitoring is right for a project, you must work backwards from the end goals by asking yourself:

  • What needs to be accomplished?
  • What data is needed to make an informed decision?
  • How is that data acquired?
  • Who can help design and/or install that kind of targeted system?
  • What is the available budget and how can it be optimized?

Let’s explore a few key areas of monitoring needs of bridges:

Load Rating: According to the infrastructure report issued by American Society of Civil Engineers in 2017, 56,007 of the nation’s bridges were structurally deficient in 2016. The average age of America’s bridges keeps going up and many of the nation’s bridges are approaching the end of design life. Load rating is a key indicator required by AASHTO to obtain the actual performance of bridges. Determination of an accurate load rating often requires field measurements in the form of strains and converted stresses at key locations. Load rating leads to objective posting decisions and facilitates continuous uninterrupted commercial traffic, vital to our economy and emergency services.

Adjacent Construction: There are several risk factors involved during construction of structures. One risk is the collapse of one or more major structures adjacent to the foundations or excavations due to failure of the support systems. We have just completed a pre-construction survey on an existing bridge in Kentucky and are currently doing monitoring as the new bridge is being built. Simultaneously, vibration monitoring of surrounding structures can protect building owners’ assets from experiencing excessive disturbances and contractors from claims associated with potential damages. 

Bridge Strikes: Strikes pose major concern for the safety of public roads as well as railroads. Bridge strike notification and warning systems can give real-time information about the safety of a structure following a collision and help make immediate operational decisions by administration staff. Other examples are ship and barge impacts that may have catastrophic consequences even during the construction stage. A sensor triggered smart detection system can quickly recognize such events and provide a complete story of pre and post condition of the structure with graphical records.

Bridge Moves: It is becoming more common to construct new bridges as a single piece close to the construction site, transport them to their final location, and erect them utilizing Self Propelled Modular Transporters (SPMTs). Automated Motorized Total Station (AMTS) can help track the overall geometry of the bridge when transported and erected as a single piece. Monitoring internal stresses of girders, floor beams, hangers and truss members from when they are cast until after they are placed into their final position tells the entire story if and when there has been any exceedance of allowable limits.

Movable or Pedestrian Bridges: Typical risks associated with movable or pedestrian bridges are excessive vibrations if the operating machinery has interfering components. Looking at the vibration characteristics of the machinery and the moving components of the bridge simultaneously, can reveal the issues regarding both the machinery itself and their influence on the bridge operation in terms of interfering frequencies and damping issues which can be used to avoid fatigue and other long term effects.

Lifetime Monitoring: Structures are now being designed with expected service life beyond 50 years and in some cases 100 years. A great example of that is Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge where we deployed the most sophisticated bridge health monitoring system in the US. A Structural Health Monitoring System (SHMS) can aid in long-term maintenance, enhancing the overall asset management programs by providing key information regarding the performance of the facility.

Whether the monitoring program is initiated at the construction stage or when the structure is already in operation, it is valuable to make daily operation decisions and confirm the safety of the structure. In the long term, it is as important to observe the future behavior of the change by looking at the differences of past and present in each component as well as their interaction with other components and ambient disturbances.

Regardless of their size, civil engineering projects involve substantial risk from the first day of construction and continuing throughout their lifetime. The uncertainties and unknowns of these risks come in different forms from safety to serviceability & budgeting. A carefully planned and economically feasible real-time monitoring program can help reduce these risks and provide considerable savings. It is essential that such programs be undertaken by an experienced and dedicated team with a systematic approach.


Ozan Celik is a Project Engineer for Geocomp’s Illinois office. He has been with Geocomp for three years and holds a doctoral degree in Structural Engineering. He has been leading the project management and business development efforts for SHM projects. He has authored and co-authored several papers and served as a reviewer for several peer-reviewed journals. Ozan is involved with the Transportation Research Board (TRB) and an active member of American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), Structural Engineering Institute (SEI) and Transportation System Preservation Technical Services Program (TSP2).

Business as Virtual

It is all but illegal now to shake hands, show an unmasked smiling face, walk into a business establishment and travel. So pretty much EVERYTHING I’m good at and enjoy doing I’m not allowed to do anymore. Panic much?…You bet I panicked! In a new world of “business as virtual” instead of “business as usual” I had to reset most of my techniques.

My strategy for winning new clients before COVID-19 was quite simple: make people like and trust me and convince them that I truly believe in the services I’m selling. I want to make every geotechnical engineer understand that GTX will help them achieve their goals: get top quality testing, meet their deadlines, and make them look good in the process.

Strategy

A key aspect to gaining this kind of trust from people is to be educated about their needs and be able to eloquently discuss how your company can serve them. From years of experience as a geotechnical engineer, I know what happens during drilling, classification, testing, analysis and finally preparing the geotechnical report. I know the challenges they face and am prepared to have a conversation about how I can help my clients avoid anything going wrong. Clients come to you because of the knowledge and experience you have, so use this to make them trust and value you…and more business will come! 

Before March 13th, I did “my thing” through extensive travel and attendance at every imaginable meeting, luncheon, happy hour, seminar or conference. Extensive smiling and mingling with everyone I met at those events was the goal in hooking them as my prospective clients.  After March 13th, I had to figure out how to do all this without the strength of my disarming smile and sincerity of my facial expression.  Now, it’s all about the conviction of my voice and my words.

Smile & Dial

Today, I convey my passion for what I do while on the phone by “smiling at the wall.”  Smiling does something to my voice and speech pattern making me sound more positive and convincing.  I almost always try to say something humorous to break the ice.  It is easiest to speak on the phone with folks you’re not nervous (or scared) to speak with.  So, during COVID-19, my advice to everyone is to focus on the low hanging fruit. Start with clients that you consider to be your “friends;” those conversations will be fun.  Then, proceed to the list of “friendly contacts” you’ve worked with. 

It is always smart to follow up on a project: “Did our report include everything you needed?” “Can we be involved with special inspections when it goes into construction?” Coming off as informed and generously sharing tangible business news also looks good. If you have leads on projects, call and ask: “Have you heard of Project XYZ? Maybe we could team up on it?” Clients who feel well taken care of spread the love. They share positive praise about us and that’s free promo we have to take advantage of.

It’s a little counter intuitive to focus on clients who already do business with you but believe me…people forget!  So now, when it especially matters, we must work at reminding them of ourselves and the services we offer or we risk that they go elsewhere. 

Story Time

Tell me if this has ever happened to you: You run into your old pal Stanley at the grocery store after not seeing him for years. You chat it up excitedly for 15 minutes both oblivious that you’re blocking the isle with your carts. You remember how much you like Stanley and enjoy spending time with him. Then next week, you pull up to the gas pump and there’s Stanley! You can’t believe it! But you both totally lose it when three days later Stanley and his family are walking towards you on a wooded path while hiking! 

For me, this weird cosmic phenomenon is what I count on to happen with my clients; and it does!  When you call, email or run into your previous clients (to remind them you exist) ask them how they’re doing, follow up on a previous project or the report you submitted, or whatever reasonable excuse you made up to call them. Just sit back and wait… A week or two later, chances are you’ll hear from them. Hopefully with a request for proposal. If you have not had contact with a client for more than 6 months, you might as well consider yourself dead to them. The thing to do is to “run into them” by accident, on purpose or via a very strategically placed phone call. 

Finally, think of “bite size” work. Before I really knew what I was doing, I planned on landing the biggest projects ever. The “million dollar” jobs. The ones featured in Forbes magazine or ENR. Guess what? I’m still waiting for those! But while I wait to score one of those, I managed to consistently win many little projects that added up to success and keeping my job for almost four years. Thank you sweet Baby Jesus!  But seriously…be excited to win all projects starting with the little ones. They are easier to win and to complete well and on time and they pay the bills as you strategize about how to win the bigger ones.

Post by: Anna Kotas, Geotechnical Engineer


Anna has been with GTX for almost 4 years doing business development throughout the Mid-Atlantic region and beyond. She tells anyone who’ll listen that this is her dream job.  She is a licensed Professional Engineer in the state of Virginia where she resides with her family. She moved to the US from Canada in 2000 after obtaining her B.S. Degree in Geological Engineering from the University of Saskatchewan. Since then, she’s been living the American dream. 

Throughout her career, she managed geotechnical projects from the earliest phases including site recon, drilling, lab testing, analysis and report preparation. She rose from the role of staff engineer to branch manager in ten years, appreciating every lesson along the way…most importantly about effectively working with people. She believes her hands on experience in the early years of her career combined with her management roles were invaluable to her current role as a representative of a world-class geotechnical laboratory.

Making a Difference in Your Work

I recently finished the book “Great Work – How to Make a Difference People Love” By David Sturt and wanted to share my takeaways relevant to the workforce, regardless of your role or industry.

The book exemplifies that innovation can make a difference in people’s lives (big or small) and can come from anyone, anywhere, at any time. The book is a guide that uses scientific research, including years of studies and interesting & inspiring real-life stories to show that people everywhere and at any level can become catalysts for positive change in all aspects of their lives. The book details the key mindsets needed to be a difference maker, including examples of how difference makers think and what difference makers do. The book outlines the five critical skill sets that are necessary to perform great work and make a difference including:

  • Asking the right question
  • Seeing for yourself
  • Talking to your outer circle
  • Improving the mix
  • Delivering the difference

Let me give you an example of how at Geocomp, I’ve seen people making a difference that others appreciate, while working from home because of COVID-19.

Our growing consulting group is very busy with project work, but we’ve faced some challenges related to sharing internal resources to get our work done efficiently.  In the past, we all worked together in the office and shared resources including specialty items like computer software for engineering analyses. When analyses needed to be done, we shared the software “keys” that allow one user at a time to perform an analysis and then physically pass the key to the next engineer when they needed to do another analysis.  A system of key sign-outs was devised to ensure priority project work could be completed and that keys were accessible to all when they needed them.

With staff working from home, this process just wasn’t working and we needed to make a change. Our Consulting Group tried using the keys on a remote computer, but this didn’t make much of a difference since there were several other software packages that were being accessed from the same remote computer. We even tried adding another remote computer, but we still had scheduling issues due to the volume of work we’ve been trying to get done. 

Finally, one of our newly hired engineers suggested upgrading to a network license. He researched the cost and provided a comparably low-cost plan to transfer our original licenses over to new network licenses. Such a small change made such a big difference! This iteration of changes leading up to a final result worked well for the team and was felt by everyone in the group from engineers doing the work, to project managers coordinating the work, to myself as the group leader knowing that we could satisfy our clients and that our team was again happy and engaged with their work.

At a time when negative news is all around us, this book was a welcome diversion.  After finishing this quick read, I was inspired and excited to notice examples of people all around me making a positive difference in others’ lives. I plan to continue to promote a culture at Geocomp of making a positive difference for others by providing this book to my staff and hosting a group conversation. I highly recommend “Great Work – How to Make a Difference People Love” to anyone who gets satisfaction from helping others and has big or little tasks that need accomplishing.

Book: Great Work – How to Make a Difference People Love, David Sturt, O.C. Tanner Institute Company (McGraw-Hill Education), 2014.

Post by: Dori Ross, Vice President and Manager of Massachusetts Consulting Group


Dori Ross has been with Geocomp for 11 years. She has been instrumental in growing the company and developing strong relationships with key clients by delivering a positive experience at every opportunity. Dori is a registered professional engineer with over 25 years experience in project/program management in the geotechnical, instrumentation & monitoring disciplines.