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    Prospect course instrumental in developing professional skills

    Prospect course instrumental in developing professional skills

    Photo By Leon Roberts | Keith Thole, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers St. Louis District civil engineer,...... read more read more



    Story by Leon Roberts 

    U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Nashville District

    NASHVILLE, Tenn. (June 22, 2016) – Corps of Engineers employees from across the nation honed their professional skills at an instrumentation prospect course at J. Percy Priest Dam June 14-16, 2016.

    Thirty students and several observers attended the dam and levee instrumentation and performance monitoring training held at J. Percy Priest Dam, which features automated data acquisition systems to measure real-world physical conditions, piezometers to measure water pressures, and inclinometers that can indicate if there has been any movement within the embankment.

    Vanessa Bateman, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District chief of Civil Design and a course instructor, said the dam is equipped with instrumentation required to teach the lessons related to the safe operation of dams and levees.

    There were two days of classroom instruction and then the class moved outside to the dam on the final day so the group could tour the gallery and see the instrumentation along the embankment.

    “We’re trying to get all of the students in the class a chance to see all of the different kinds of instrumentation that we have out at our project and give them at least a little hands-on experience,” Bateman said. “Few of our students have direct hands on experience with automated instruments.”

    Bateman explained that the course covers a whole suite of different instruments used to monitor dams and levees, and teaches students how to analyze the readings to gauge and monitor the health of dams and levees.

    The classroom portion also included instruction on monitoring programs, risk assessments, installing instrumentation and software, data management, performance evaluation and case histories.

    Georgette Hlepas, senior geotechnical engineer with the Dam Safety Modification and Mandatory Center of Expertise in Huntington, West Va., instructed and helped develop the prospect course. She said the significance of this course is it helps employees to decide where to locate instruments, how to monitor and evaluate the data.

    “It’s one thing to go out and put some instrumentation in and get that data, but when you are looking at that data, what is it telling you? How do you interpret it and analyze it to see if your project is safe or do you need to take action?” Hlepas said. “That’s the main difference between this course and anything else that is out there.”

    Hlepas said the prospect course developers took into consideration the Corps of Engineers’ reporting requirements, what thresholds indicate an issue exists, how often instrumentation data should be collected and analyzed, and at what point instruments should be added, removed or replaced. Comprehensive analysis helps the Corps to better understand the health of projects across the country, she added.

    “So we do emphasize that visual monitoring is very important, but there are a lot of things you cannot capture with the naked eye,” Hlepas said. “There could be subtle things going on in the subsurface that there’s no way you could see with your eye ball. And by the time you see it with your eyeball, it may be too late or things have progressed to a point where you are very concerned.”

    She said it’s best to understand what is going on deep inside the project as early as possible, and this instrumentation prospect course is serving to help employees use instruments to monitor the health of a dam or levee.

    Andrew Weber, a geotechnical engineer from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Galveston District, said he works with dam and levee safety and this prospect course is beneficial because of two high-risk dams in his district.

    “I want to learn more about instrumentation to make sure we’re doing the best job we can to make sure we’re watching those dams as closely as we should be and up to the state of practice,” Weber said. “This class has really taught me a lot about our automation options. If we can get data more often that’s a benefit to the project.”

    Dereck Bentley, general maintenance supervisor for 13 dams within the Willamette Valley in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Portland District, said four employees came to the course to help with the development of an automated system to monitor the projects. He said it’s been good to see the instrumentation being used at J. Percy Priest Dam and to network with experts who are able to share the dos and don’ts as they prepare to install and maintain these systems.

    Jason Anderson, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers St. Louis District, instructed an ADAS session and said the course covered everything from cradle to grave for the life of an instrument and benefitted a wide variety of career fields such as geologists, civil engineers and facility managers.

    “I really enjoyed talking with the students and helping them with any issues and questions they have with the instruments,” Anderson said. “It’s almost like a networking and open discussion course as well.”

    Hlepas; Bateman; Keith Thole, St. Louis District; and Bill Walker, Nashville District; are credited with developing this prospect course. The instructors taught the first pilot classes last year at J. Percy Priest Dam.

    (For more news, updates and information please follow the Nashville District on Facebook at and Twitter at



    Date Taken: 06.22.2016
    Date Posted: 06.22.2016 12:45
    Story ID: 202104
    Location: NASHVILLE, TN, US 

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