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From Drones to Radioactive Material: A Look at Manson’s Survey Group

Two men survey a marine yard in Jacksonville, Florida.
Survey Manager Ken Quiñones (using the prism pole and data collector), and Engineer Ben Herbay (on safety watch) surveying the Jacksonville yard. PHOTO CREDIT | BRIAN BARNES—SENIOR SURVEY & GUIDANCE ELECTRONICS ENGINEER

When it comes to Manson’s experienced Survey Group, Survey Manager Ken Quiñones understands the work they do is more than meets the eye. “The work of the Survey Group is often overlooked by those who don’t understand the process,” Ken says. “There is more to surveying than calculating volumes of material for a dredging project.”

The department is an orchestrated ensemble of seven individuals including Ken; three Senior Survey & Guidance Electronics Engineers—Brian Barnes, Eric Whiddon, and Donnie Smith; Dredge Quality Management & Dredge Electronics Engineer Carlos Vizcarrondo; Field Engineer Ashley Mueller—temporarily joining the Group via Manson’s Training Work Assignment program, and Administrative Assistant Jacqueline Parenteau. Together, they complete various tasks overseeing reliable, safe, accurate, and quality surveys for dredging projects across North America. The group is also responsible for electronic positioning and reporting systems used onboard Manson equipment to carry out the dredging process. Each member is responsible for their own tasks and duties to keep things on track on a variety of fronts. “Every role within the Survey Group is important because everyone plays an integral part in our success,” Ken says.

A man conducting a GPS position check.
Senior Survey & Guidance Electronics Engineer Eric Whiddon conducting a GPS position check. PHOTO CREDIT | SURVEY GROUP

Surveys and Electronic Positioning

The Survey Group’s primary role is to support Manson’s regional dredging operations by providing strategic planning, communication, and training in complex instruments and methods that help ensure projects run smoothly—a task made possible by the Survey Group and field engineers assigned to the project to get the job done. Hydrographic surveys are conducted from a survey boat outfitted with modern positioning and sonar devices. Information from the “hydro” data is used to calculate quantities of material, monitor the dredging progress, and develop the best strategies to maximize efficiency. Hydrographic surveys occur before, during, and after a project. The group, along with Manson project teams and dredge crews, review and track information collected with the boat’s advanced instrumentation to ensure dredging takes place at the right` location and at the correct depths. During dredging operations, the Survey Group also assists project management teams to identify and resolve discrepancies that may occur between Manson’s data and the United States Army Corps of Engineers. “Discrepancies between surveys can easily result in significant differences on the project’s bottom line,” Ken says. “The key is to ensure Manson’s project management teams and dredge crews have the most accurate information to complete the project safely, efficiently, and in accordance with the contract.”

Emerging Drone Technology With support from Manson’s executive leadership, Ken, along with several regional personnel, helped launch the Small Unmanned Aerial Systems (sUAS) Drone program in 2018. The program establishes strict protocols for the safe and proper use of any drone activity in accordance with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and other regulations. To participate in drone activities, personnel must be

endorsed by Manson’s Chief Operating Officer Jim McNally, and receive approval from a Manson area manager and Ken—manager of the drone program. The pilot must also hold a current FAA Remote Pilot certification to fly one of the company’s several drones. Manson’s safety measures and strict protocols align with federal law to protect the company from liabilities regarding safety, insurance, privacy rights, and property access issues.

A man holding a mapping drone.
Dredge Quality Management & Dredge Electronics Engineer Carlos Vizcarrondo holding Manson’s advanced mapping drone. PHOTO CREDIT | SURVEY GROUP

Although fixed-wing aircrafts were typically used in the past, drones now provide Manson with the ability to conduct aerial photogrammetry in-house. In addition, drones are also used for a variety of tasks including aerial videography and photography which can be used for project planning, hazard analysis, training, and marketing. The use of drones leverages Manson’s ability to save on a project’s budget and schedule. “With today’s technology, we can very quickly fly a $1,500 drone and generate 3D maps of a project site,” Eric says. “We can also take full HD photos of an area but, more importantly, we can remove personnel from having to work in potentially harsh and often remote environments.” Drones are an essential tool used to create photo-realistic maps and terrain models of areas large and small, including other information like existing vegetation or environmentally sensitive areas. Drones can also be used to perform equipment inspections to help assess damage to determine if components need to be repaired or replaced.

A man giving a presentation to new engineers.
Senior Survey & Guidance Engineer Donnie Smith providing training during new engineer orientation. PHOTO CREDIT | JAQUELINE PARENTEAU—ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT

Radioactive Work Although the Survey Group’s focus is to manage survey efforts and equipment, some members have taken on additional responsibilities to support Manson’s operations. Responsible for monitoring and maintaining software programs that meet federal reporting regulations, Carlos does much more than software upkeep. “My role introduces me to new tasks and challenges every day,” Carlos shares. “In addition to managing specialized software, I serve as the company’s Radiation Safety Officer (RSO).” Manson holds a license to use radioactive materials from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission on dredge jobs in several states, including Washington, California, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia.

On cutter suction and hopper dredge projects, Manson uses radioactive materials to carefully monitor the density of material moving through the dredge’s pump systems in real time. This information is critical to help maximize dredge production and prevent the systems from getting overloaded.

“As Manson’s RSO, I am responsible for ensuring the company adheres to very strict usage, regulatory and licensing requirements and to establish protocols and procedures to safeguard our crews working around the nuclear sources,” Carlos explains.

The Survey Group is continuously improving processes and learning about innovative technology can enhance Manson’s capabilities and safety, but the group’s number one method is active communication to keep operations running smoothly.

“Communication is a big factor in our group’s success,” Carlos explains. “We are eager to ask questions and collaborate openly with one another to find out how to approach different situations.”

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