Lessons Learned: Utility Designation Overseas
by Dimitri Payne
The prospect of flying halfway around the world for a project involving utility designation might seem like an exciting but nearly impossible task. When the opportunity came around for my firm, Utility Professionals Inc (UPI), I jumped at the chance. The challenges I tackled made me a better utility designator. I picked up a few lessons learned that I hope can do the same for you.
Base Naval de Rota is nestled on the western coast of Spain in the city of Rota, Cadiz. Home to the U.S. Naval Forces Europe, the base is the largest American military community in Spain, housing more than 3,000 U.S. Navy sailors, Marines and their families. Since it was established in 1953, the base is now in the process of updating and improving their infrastructure to support their growing population, which was how my firm got involved. UPI was brought on board in early 2019 to provide utility designation services to help create mapping for the expansion of the base.
The challenges of providing utility designation services overseas including traveling with equipment, lack of existing plans, and even wildlife did not stop us from completing our mission. At the end of our stint, the experience and hospitality we received will ever stay within our minds and provides the excitement to one day return. Here is how we dealt with some of the more difficult challenges that came along with utility designation overseas.
Traveling is expensive. Traveling with equipment, supplies and essentials, or shipping to the hotel, was not feasible, and so our team had to create a solution to ensure we had the tools needed to accomplish the work. We enlisted the help of a local hardware store that we visited and got many of our typical tools. Not all the tools we have here in the states were available, so in some cases we had to improvise. The tool I missed the most was the paint stick to hold the paint. I had to hand paint each mark for over 100 acres!
Working in older areas, we always look for plans and as-builts to help us in our prospecting of utilities, giving us an edge to know what to expect. When visiting the local department, we found that a staff member working on the base for over 30 years provided better information than the plans recovered. With an impeccable memory and many great stories, he helped us find out where undetectable utilities lie.
Respect Native Wildlife
Nothing prepared us for the biggest challenge — wildlife. Many of the sandy and palm tree-lined areas included dense shrubs that needed to be cleared. While planning, we could not remove any shrubs unless an environmentalist confirmed that the area was outside the homes of an endangered species, the chameleon. To keep the chameleons’ habitats safe, we omitted mapping those portions of the site.
Utility locating services brought UPI to Rota, however we got the opportunity to experience much more. Instead of disposing of tools and used and unused PPE, we donated everything to the Self-Help Program, which capitalizes on the skill levels and manpower of Navy personnel to perform minor maintenance and saves the Navy money.
The experience we gained, both externally and internally, made us understand and appreciate the success of our mission. We look forward to completing more projects overseas in 2020, including projects in Africa and Germany, where we will apply the lessons we learned in Spain and tackle new, exciting challenges.