ADMS Facilitated Cleanup in Aftermath of Hurricane Ike, Third Costliest in U.S. History
Scenes of Devastation
In September 2008, Hurricane Ike made its final landfall over Galveston, Texas, cutting a swath of destruction as a Category 2 hurricane with a Category 5 equivalent storm surge and hurricane force winds extending 120 miles from the center of the storm. All told, Ike was the third costliest hurricane ever to make landfall in the United States, causing $15 billion in damages, mostly in the state of Texas.
In the aftermath of the devastation caused by Ike, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT)—along with various agencies within the state, including the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the Texas General Land Office, Galveston County, and the City of Galveston—was faced with restoring a state of normalcy to the region by facilitating the quick and efficient disposal of debris. All told, there were seven projects that required attention and, in addition to debris removal from roads and state parks—which included damaged structures, vehicles, boats, and hazardous materials—eco-sensitive areas needed to be contained and monitored for environmental impact.
The TxDOT and the affiliate agencies tasked Metric Engineering, Inc. (Miami), one of the nation’s leading engineering, architectural, construction, and emergency management organizations specializing in infrastructure and transportation for government clients, with monitoring the entire debris removal operation utilizing its automated debris management system. The project would entail customizing and enhancing the system to systematically handle all aspects of the operation, and make adjustments as requirements—and circumstances on the ground—changed.
Time is typically one of Metric’s biggest challenges, especially when working on an Emergency Management Services (EMS) application. “We often don’t get notified of some core requirements until after a disaster has hit and we acquire a contract,” said Deepali Patil, Data Solutions Manager for Metric, who oversees the development of customized and integrated information systems. “Which is understandable, as disasters of the magnitude of Ike pose unpredicted challenges—events on the ground are fluid, and require that developers are deployed on site to make on-the-fly modifications to our debris management system.”
A Partner in a Storm: Metric Engages Quadion
Metric’s team quickly realized the need to augment their internal resources. They needed to find a partner with the right capabilities and experience, who could jump right in, understand the project’s scope, the challenges, and hit the ground running. One of Patil’s supervisors referred her to a software development firm called Quadion, with whom he’d successfully worked in the past. On paper, Quadion’s capabilities and experience appeared to be an excellent match—they had developed sophisticated emergency management systems and as adherents to the Scrum development methodology, were versed in working with cross-functional teams in delivering solutions that were adaptable to the dynamics of emergency situations. Scrum is an iterative, incremental framework for project management and agile software development.
There was, however, a potential sticking point: Quadion was based over 4,000 miles away, in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
“Despite their obvious abilities, we needed assurances that we could integrate our teams without having to worry about language barriers and the geographical distance, as seamless, real-time communication is critical, particularly for a time-sensitive project as this,” said Patil. “From day one, communications were flawless, as Quadion has worked with stateside groups before. There were absolutely no language issues, and they had a communications infrastructure ready to go, which included video conferencing, VoIP, and efficient collaboration tools with version control and daily off-site backup. Quadion’s management staff also made periodic personal visits to our office in Miami to make sure that everything was functioning efficiently.” Quadion also sent staff to work onsite during the initial phases of development.
“I soon learned that one of Quadion’s key strengths is taking minimally defined requirements and promptly delivering a concept product. We may not always start out knowing exactly what we want to deliver to our client, but by the end of the project we are able to meet our client’s needs with great customer satisfaction,” Patil explained.
Defining the Project: The Challenges of Hitting a Moving Target
According to Quadion’s CEO Javier Delgado, “The initial scope of the project was, as Patil mentions, somewhat vague. The goal was to build and customize an Automated Debris Management System™ (ADMS™) to facilitate the timely and efficient cleanup of the devastation caused by Ike. There were requirements to comply with, and some uncertainties regarding the context the app would have to be run in. The Scrum methodology we use gave us a framework in which to build incremental prototypes of each component of the system. Our approach was hands-on and test-driven, as some of the technologies we had to integrate were almost experimental—such as military mobile devices and encrypted cards to authenticate users.”
The project’s goal was to automate a very significant operation, and tailor an ADMS that had two core elements: a Right-of-Way (ROW) Site Debris Management module (an electronic load ticket application of the ADMS that records ROW transactional data for mission managers, haulers, and applicants) and a Disposal Site Debris Management module (to manage transactions between origination and disposal).
Communications and Coordination
Given the importance of this project, Metric’s president, Carlos Duart, traveled to Argentina to meet with the Quadion team during the initial discovery and analysis phase. “Meeting the Quadion team and working hand-in-hand with them at the onset deepened my confidence in their technical proficiency and development capabilities. They clearly had a very good handle on the project’s scope, its challenges, and the need to adjust to changing circumstances. After several sessions, there was never a doubt that we’d deliver an exceptional ADMS solution,” Duart said. Indeed, Duart delegated all the later stages of the process to Quadion, given their proven ability to meet all requirements in a timely manner.
The project was completed in phases, and continued over the course of two years. Quadion’s lead developer also made a handful of trips to Texas during deployment to provide training, and integrate and fine tune some specific tools. Indeed, the project continues to evolve, as Quadion is working on a module to comply with new requirements that have arisen.
“From the very beginning, Quadion’s team delivered,” said Patil. “They are always professional, pleasant, and very responsive. If we can’t get in contact with one person, we are always able to contact someone else—for a project of this scope, where we are always having to address new requirements, that kind of responsiveness is critically important.”
Metric and Quadion: Teamwork Pays Long-term Dividends
The ADMS ultimately put in place provided the TxDOT with a more efficient, accurate, and auditable process for debris management. It does everything from ensuring debris eligibility and completion of load tickets for reimbursement; providing tools for immediate processing, estimating, viewing, and analysis of data; facilitating real-time, operational decision-making, and reducing staffing requirements and program costs.
The partnership has worked so well that Metric has adopted the Scrum methodology in all its projects. “Interacting with Quadion on a daily basis has demonstrated the value of Scrum in streamlining development and accelerating product delivery,” said Patil. “We often face roadblocks and unexpected issues due to the nature of our work, which involves collaboration among managers and developers, often working in different locations, to find optimal solutions. Working with Quadion has provided dividends beyond the scope of this project.”
Patil noted that client feedback has been positive and she heartily recommends Quadion to other organizations. “Any gaps in technical knowledge, especially given the complexity of the work we do, have been improved throughout our working relationship. We look forward to partnering with Quadion on future projects.”