By: Dave Tomsey
When I was first introduced to perimeter air monitoring, I walked in circles for days, literally. Every half hour I recorded a reading in my field book and moved to the next assigned point. This necessary, tedious process continued for days, weeks, and months. At the end of each day I watched an entire job crew file through the gates to the parking area as I stood by in envy. After a deep breath of annoyance and gloom, I grabbed the laptop and associated data cables for one last circular trudge to download the day’s data: Will the data download? Will it start raining (or snowing) like yesterday? Will the laptop and data cables work? Will I be able to see the mouse cursor on-screen against the glare? Will the seemingly-fickle detector programs open and perform so that I can eventually go home? Thirteen downloads in all were required each evening after the project site shut down adding up to over an hour and a half of sheer repetitiveness. That’s if everything worked right.
On some days I would get all the data I needed, some days not. Even worse, I knew that a downloaded, extremely high reading would make for an agonizing next morning with the site supervisors. For any EHS technician on a perimeter monitoring job, the biggest problem isn’t the exercise or long days, it is the inability to explain the juxtaposition of “crazy high” reading at one location when a “good” reading occurred simultaneously at the opposite end of the site where I was writing readings down. When asked for the reason why, I didn’t have a “reason” or a “why”.
Flash forward five years and a lot has changed. As part of the Greenlight Environmental Monitoring System Team, I take part in a weekly engineering meeting that focuses on making air monitoring more efficient, detailed, accountable, easier to use and quicker to understand. Essentially, we’re working on streamlining site data acquisition to understand “reasons” and “why” readings occur when they do. Using my experience in the field, a large part of my job responsibility is to figure out ways to improve my old job while creating a much better and cheaper way to retrieve site data. So what have we accomplished? Here’s a progression of how the Greenlight System developed as we tried so solve real site problems:
- Using wireless technology is nothing new, and remote linking into a single device at a time is not necessarily that helpful. So the engineering team developed a program that could “see” what was happening at every monitoring station on a single screen.
- Unfortunately, we were still trotting out to each field station to download, start and stop each device. So we added remote start/stop and download capabilities to our developing system and now we could control the devices from a single computer.
- Datalogging in real-time (not just at the end of the day), graphical displays, site and contour maps, automatic report generation and many other features to control and present data were added to the software. Now the technician or any authorized person could see exactly what was happening at each station right now! instead of walking in a circuit to check on status.
- Instead of relying on each instrument’s datalogging capabilities, we added a Remote Terminal Unit (RTU) in each field station to take over datalogging. We also log data at the central server to ensure that data is never lost.
- The RTU gave our growing system even more capabilities; now we could add a multiple, different detectors to a single RTU in each field station, gather data and status from all of them, and send the data packets back to a central server.
- Interference for wireless communications were troublesome and complicated, but by switching to addressable and secure modems, data continuously moves across sites without problem.
- Moving stations based on prevailing winds isn’t ideal (especially when you’re out there in the field!) so wind direction is measured, an upwind station is identified, then background or offsite readings could be automatically subtracted from downwind stations.
- An action level alarm is not good. Ever. So we added multiple alarm levels to the System to avoid work stopping exceedences. Alarming at the base computer was a no-brainer. In addition, we added text and email alarms to multiple numbers. Lights and whistles can be added, too. Now, at the first hint of a problem, the user knows and can take proper action.
- So that a smart phone can view and control conditions at any site, we made all of the system server functions web based — all pages can be accessed remotely. For example, to look at an alarm, device or site reading from any particular day, just log in to the secure web address, and review the data. Five months ago or five minutes, all the device data is there in one database.
The list of features and firsts goes on and on; the point is that there is always a new and better way to get the job done…even if it is monitoring dust at a construction site. So why are companies still using field books to store data where the newest technology is the gel pen jotting down readings every half hour? By employing new monitoring technology and the technician, you’ll have site data quicker and understand “why” so that you’ll have a safer, cleaner site that is in compliance with less anomalies. And, you won’t be walking in circles.