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Staff Stories—Ken Quiñones

After the 2008 financial crisis forced to him to close his hydrographic surveying business, Ken Quiñones was reeling. Along with the pain of having to lay off his employees, Ken mournfully recalls how devastating it was having to close the doors knowing he had employees and families that counted on their income from his company. Besides worrying about the future of those he employed and their families, Ken and his business partner were worried about their own families’ livelihoods as they looked for jobs in a jobless economy.

Survey Manager Ken Quiñones

Ken, now Manson’s survey and sUAS manager, started his career in the maritime industry as a teenager, attending Diver’s Training Academy in Fort Pierce, Florida, directly out of high school. After receiving his diver’s certification, Ken progressed to working for a few small companies in the Gulf of Mexico and then in Jacksonville, Florida, doing submarine pipeline installation. Part of diving inspection at this time was hydrographic surveys and pipeline installations and it was in 2005 that Ken started his own business, Hydrographic Information Services Inc., (HIS) with his business partner.

Fortunately, Ken’s company had previously worked with Manson as a hydrographic survey subcontractor, and after seeing how well Manson treated their employees and subcontractors, he decided to apply for the open Assistant Survey Manager position. He got the job and came on board in the fall of 2008. After meeting his new colleagues Mike Warwick, Marc Stearns, and Dave Howard, he remembers that it was like “love at first sight.”

Manson’s survey department is used predominantly for overseeing hydrographic survey operations to understand the means and methods for upcoming and potential projects. Hydrographic surveys map underwater land features using bathymetry which defines underwater terrain. The team finds out what materials need to be dredged and then monitors dredging operations. Once the survey team is out in the field, they collect aerial data of sites encompassing hundreds of acres in a matter of days. “These surveys offer us very comprehensive data of large sites to the same accuracy that was achieved with manned aircraft (and maybe even better) just ten years ago,” Ken says.

In Ken’s many years of doing business, he has seen technology emerge and evolve. He notes that Manson has been adopting new technologies “at an impressive rate.” For example, Ken recalls how in the mid-2000s, aerial photogrammetry was in place but to use this technology required contracting with a specialized company that used fixed-wing aircraft outfitted with million-dollar camera and navigation systems. The processing of the aerial data was very painstaking and slow to produce survey products. Today, Manson’s survey crew goes out to a project with a two-man team and a relatively inexpensive drone and collects aerial photogrammetry data on a 300-acre site in about 30 minutes, producing survey products just a day later.

Another improvement that Ken sees as greatly improving operational efficiency byadvanced technology is the integration of GPS technology with our earthmoving equipment. This has greatly enhanced Manson’s effectiveness in shaping the fills on beach nourishment projects. Just a few short years ago, the Company relied on setting physical grade stakes to show bull dozer operators where the top of the fill templates were located. This was another painstaking and laborious effort. Hundreds of galvanized steel stakes had to be inscribed with unique identification numbers. They were then pounded into the sand and with ribbons attached to show the specified top of the fill area. They each had to be entered into a log with their ID, position and date they were installed. After the project each one had to be logged in as recovered, and lost steel stakes were categorized as hazards that had to be searched for and recovered. The entire process was often one of the largest and most time-consuming tasks for Manson’s engineers.

Today, Manson incorporates real-time GPS equipment on the dozers that help operators “see” the template in real-time – without the need for stakes whatsoever. Manson has even gone a step beyond by incorporating real-time GPS positioning right into the hydraulic blade controls of the dozer so that the blade height on the machine is actually controlled by the GPS system. Again, this technology enhanced our efficiency and safety in beach operations significantly. Ken is proud of being a leader in these new technological developments for the company. But, he says “the greatest part of what we do is that we really have fun doing it.”

As the manager of Manson’s tightly knit sUAS (small Unmanned Aerial Systems) team, Ken notes, "Manson is now at the forefront of using this type of technology.” The sUAS team is an intentionally small group of pilots within Manson, which includes Bill King overseeing the West Coast operations and Ken on the East Coast. Eric Whiddon and Donnie Smith are joining the team, currently in sUAS pilot training.

In addition to using sUAS, Manson has also ventured into the use of Unmanned Surface Vehicles (USVs), remotely operated by survey boats. These platforms allow the conduction of hydrographic surveys in areas where more conventional boats may not have access – such as in close quarter areas or very shallow areas were regular boats cannot operate safely.

Using his keen attention to visual detail, Ken is also known around Manson for his ability to capture Manson project work through photography and video. His “love affair” with photography began in the mid-1980s when he got his first job with a dredging company and started traveling, seeing new places for the first time, and having the opportunity to capture images in different locations that fed his desire to “snap the shutter more and more.” “That has never lost its appeal to me,” Ken says. While Ken still loves scenic images, he has also started to delve into portraiture (both of humans and pets) and along with wildlife photography, which he finds “very challenging and satisfying.”

Ken enjoys sharing his vast experiences and knowledge in his area of expertise with new Manson recruits. “If there is ever anything that I can do to help folks understand more about what I know, and they have a desire to learn, it motivates me to teach them what I can. What works for me most of the time is presenting what is almost always very technical material in a very practical way. That way the material almost reveals itself to these bright engineers. I really get a lot out of it. I hope, in the end, they do too.” He adds that it helps to “always take your work seriously. Very seriously. But always have fun doing it – it’s a must. Never forget how important what we do is and never underestimate your role and contributions to the effort. Create and maintain relationships with your colleagues and do all you can to make those relationships meaningful, because they are.”

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