The expansion and contraction of the military industrial complex in the United States has left a number of areas in the country with a deceptively quiet and under recognized problem, called Unexploded Ordnance, or UXO.
The demand for utilization of land in many areas is leading land owners and developers to re-purpose tracts of land which have lain unused for many years. In many cases, this land was formerly used to either manufacture or test weapon systems, or may have been a military installation. An impact area or test range is a dangerous place to be, since the presence of unexploded ordnance is either known or suspected, but actual location is unknown.
The military has a program aimed at addressing the cleanup of these sites, called a Military Munitions Response, which is accomplished with a carefully planned and executed process that includes substantial records and historical research, soil investigation, and inspection of the land by Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) technicians, and the eventual safe elimination of hazards from a project. This investigation itself is a labor intensive but relatively safe process that involves gridding out search areas that will allow the EOD techs to use the tools at their disposal to efficiently and completely scan an area, with the goal of identifying the location of artillery shells, bombs and other munitions, so they can be found, mapped, neutralized and safely removed for proper disposal.
While many of the steps in the planning process are based on research, such military planning maps, testing records, known range uses and types of weapons systems in use during the use cycle of an installation or facility, the actual clearing of the land of its hidden hazardous materials relies on a careful and methodical exploration of its content. In many cases records are not clear, not available or inaccurate, so the hazardous and often unstable materials must be carefully searched for by highly trained technicians, using a number of sophisticated and simple tools in an environment that the average person would never dare to enter.
One an area of interest is identified, it is formally cordoned off and a grid system designed that will support an exhaustive sweeping of the site by a variety of magnetometers, ground penetrating radar and other sensor systems. All of the equipment is equipped with either GPS or optical tracking equipment that is time synchronized with the sensor output stream to enable mapping of readings.
Once the data about the site is collected, anomalies that were detected are assessed based on size, signal strength and even shape to identify items that will be excavated and fully investigated. Obviously, this is a delicate process, since every item is potentially a highly dangerous piece of ordnance. Once the item is exposed, it is carefully examined for identifying markings and characteristics that will help the EOD team make a positive identification of its capabilities. Once an item is identified, a decision is made as to whether it is dangerous or not. Often, an object is immediately identified as a practice munition that never held an explosive charge, but many times it is determined to contain a fuse, bursting charge, explosive payload or even in some cases toxic compounds such as mustard gas. It is critical to identify an objects nature and content, since while it may be safe to remove or detonate an object containing a known amount of energetic material, a shell containing mustard gas compound requires an entirely different process to render safe and dispose of.
While all of this may sound fantastically dangerous, every possible step is taken to avoid problems. All personnel entering the work area are briefed on the hazards, actions to take and what should be avoided. Additionally, all personnel are assigned an EOD escort to monitor all movement, scan areas for hazards and communicate with other team members about conditions and events as they occur. Since most surveyors have no formal training in this field, an escort allows them to conduct their assignments with minimal effect on their workflows. No equipment is placed on the ground, no tripod is erected and no stake is hammered into the ground until the area has been visually and electronically scanned for potential danger.
Surveying related tasks normally fall into several general categories. The first is stakeout of grid lines, squares or polygonal areas as directed by the EOD team. Generally site conditions are less than optimal, as the nature of the site means it is often densely wooded or overgrown, necessitating traversing along work areas, projecting control across a or along a work area, while maintain high positional accuracy.
Once the EOD team begins its work, the survey team is often called into locate items encountered or provide positioning of equipment while it is used. The disruptions to in process tasks must be adapted to efficiently, as overall progress of the project is closely tied to finding objects and mapping them for evaluation.
Results of each day’s work, be it stakeout or location, must be immediately available to the management team so that the data of the entire team can evaluated, hazards cataloged and analyzed and changing conditions be planned for and adapted to. The quick delivery of data is made possible by highly skilled, methodical and detail oriented technicians, who must thoroughly understand all of the technical standards, equipment features and functions and have a firm grasp on solid, dependable methodologies and practices that ensure high quality results. Effective team management is critical, since a survey crew must be ready to accept new data and taskings, set priorities based on input from the project team and be able to work with precision, accuracy and efficiency.
Military munitions mitigation is an international challenge, with widely varying locations. AXIS team members have been involved in a wide variety of projects in the Mid-Atlantic region. Sites have included clearing antitank rocket training ranges at the former Fort Miles in Lewes, Delaware, clearing recoilless rifle projectiles from test ranges used by the Frankford Arsenal in Palmyra, New Jersey, searching for World War I era French antitank mines at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Aberdeen Maryland and clearing a former manufacturing facility in Cranbury, New Jersey of the World War II era fire bomb disposal areas and exploring the site of an accidental explosion in a hand grenade storage area that scattered blasting cap fuses and unexploded anti-personal grenades over a wide radius. AXIS is currently involved in work at the ing control infrastructure to support the installation and documentation of monitoring wells across this wide ranging facility. One of the sites at Lakehurst is the site of a former submarine training range, where practice bombs were dropped from airships onto a mockup of a submarine. This area has yielded the both rusted out shells of sand filled training bombs, as well as small training munitions with bursting charges that helped personnel see the impacts of munitions on the target. in New Jersey that includes providing GPS calibration sites, staking exploration areas and provid
Often the survey team will be called upon to setup a test range, calibrate equipment or provide technical assistance with team equipment, or put into play data from multiple sources. The unique skills of a surveyor are critical for analysis of data, identification of coordinate systems and integrating data from a variety of sources into a single cohesive coordinate database.
AXIS GeoSpatial personnel have experience in this unconventional market, which has a unique set of requirements, including conventional surveying tasks such as stakeout and location of points of interest, and the ability to assist with positioning of other team equipment in a wide variety of conditions. While the challenges of this market seem daunting, the careful employment of safe work practices, close attention to site conditions and adherence to common sense rules ensure disruption of productivity is minimized, high quality results are achieved and a project is successfully completed, without any danger to personnel.
William T. Derry, Prof LS
Director of Surveying Technologies
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