Using GIS to Assist in Recent Illinois Tornado – Related Emergency Response

Recently in Illinois several communities unfortunately experienced extensive tornado damage. And over the last week I've seen several GIS-related efforts set up to offer information that could be helpful to those working to recover and rebuild. Below are a few quick summaries of these efforts:


According to their website, OpenStreetMap is "a free, editable map of the whole world. Unlike proprietary datasets like Google Map Maker, the OpenStreetMap license allows free access to the full map dataset." So basically, this online map and the related data are available to anyone and can be edited by anyone. It's been useful over the last few years in helping communities experiencing disasters. One of my favorite examples of how this has been implemented is the assistance that was offered after the Haiti earthquake a few years ago. If interested, you can check out a video showing the timelapse of the OpenStreetMap edits for the Haiti effort here: OpenStreetMap Project Haiti

Last weekend, one of the cities in Illinois that experienced the most damage was Washington, Ill. Soon after relief efforts began, I noticed Dave Smith, a GIS professional from the Washington, DC, area had started an effort to map all the structures in Washington, Ill., on OpenStreetMap. Over the last week a number of people assisted him in this effort. At this point a good portion of the buildings have been mapped with only a few more areas left to be done. I embedded a view of the Washington, Ill., area of the map below. As you move around and zoom in keep in mind before Dave started this effort, there were no structures mapped in this city. You can see how much was done in just one week by volunteers from all over the world. The benefit of this map is that now, anyone can freely use this map and the information created by only properly citing the credit as indicated on the OpenStreetMap site:


Online Mapping of Damage

Today, Roger Diercks, another GIS professional I know who works in Illinois, posted a note in the local GIS user group about a mapping effort by Cloudpoint Geographics that shows the comparison between pre and post tornado. You can visit their map here: Post 11/17/2013 'Washington' Tornado Imagery

He also posted a link to a map set up by the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission showing the devastation and the path of the tornado. You can visit that map here: November 17, 2013 Tornado – Pekin/East Peoria/Washington


Using GIS to Prepare for a Disaster

All of these examples show what can be done online within a short amount of time to assist with emergency response. These mapping tools used in conjunction with hand held devices can allow emergency responders and inspectors to access maps real time and even provide edits of their own. And this can be critical for response efforts. One of the main issues I hear at emergency response training is that it can be difficult to orient yourself after a disaster if damage is extensive. People visiting sites that no longer have familiar landmarks, homes, or street signs can be left wondering where they are. So having access to online maps can help to improve response times and provide for a more successful overall rescue, assessment, and rebuilding. Of course, having as much mapped as possible prior to a disaster can make it that much easier. One idea for doing this is to involve the community or school using a map like OpenStreetMap. Perhaps during September which is National Preparedness Month, agencies can sponsor Map Days and encourage schools and citizens to edit the OpenStreetMap adding important information like homes, schools, parks, commercial structures, parking facilities, hospitals, shelters, addresses and any other information that might be helpful should the community experience a disaster. 



Fixing the Illinois Pension System by Investing in Local Economies

JC Whitney DevelopmentToday we read an article, INTERVIEW: When a State Doesn’t Realize Its Best, City-Level Assets, in which Pennsylvania Treasurer Rob McCord talked about the impact that the transfer of funding of education from a state to local responsibility would have on his state's economy. While we might not have totally agreed with his hesitation to transfer at least some of this responsibility, his comment of "..that’s coming at the expense of other basic investments in services that could yield a return, and we’re seeing this downward spiral" made us think more about the synergy between state and local finances. As Rob was pointing out, the development of economic drivers really happens at the local level. And when a city makes this local investment to attract and develop business, the state benefits from the additional revenue generated. This is of course not news to any of us in government – it is why Illinois, the state we happen to live in, already has so many programs that provide economic development money to cities. But what it did make us start thinking about is how the state's pension fund could fit into this equation. Could the pension fund in Illinois be used to invest in local economies to increase state revenues and as a side benefit provide better and more secure returns to the pension fund?

While we are not financial experts nor did we stay in a Holiday Inn Express, we do have some background and familiarity in working with the funding systems in Illinois for economic development and investment in infrastructure. We realize from this experience that the framework and support for this is already in place for the state to provide monies to local agencies to support and attract businesses through construction of infrastructure. Some monies are provided through loans such as the revolving loan funds at the IEPA while other programs like IDOT's EDP  provide funds through grants that do not have to be paid back. So we wondered why not do something similar with the pension funds? 

The approach we were thinking about would be to use pension funds as the source of loan funds that are made available to local agencies for the sole purpose of supporting an infrastructure project tied to economic development. The loans would be provided at a range of interest rates depending on whether or not the local agency had an actual commitment from a business to locate in the community. For example, if a city did not have a specific business in mind and instead was only creating a business park, the rate could be set at 5%. But if the city was able to get a business to sign something like a 10-year commitment and needed a loan to build the infrastructure to attract that business, the loan rate could be 3%. There are many other factors that could be used in a formula to determine interest rate such as expected jobs, sales tax, real estate tax, etc. Perhaps the state could even start out with a small pilot program to test the feasibility of this concept and allow for a testing of the parameters that would need to be in place to ensure its success.

They key to all this is that right now we are relying on Wall Street for our returns for our pension fund investments, and there is no guarantee on the rate of return nor does it necessarily put money back into the economic engine of our own state. If we instead made pension fund investments in our local economy through a system that guaranteed a rate of return from reliable sources – local agencies – we would know we were making money each year, we would know how much, and we would be using our money to make more money. It might not fix the whole problem, but it seems like it has potential to at least contribute some benefit.




ISPE Updating Standard Specifications for Water and Sewer Construction in Illinois

Below is a press release from the Illinois Society of Professional Engineers regarding an update to the Standard Specifications for Water and Sewer Construction in Illinois:

Recommendations Sought for Illinois Water & Sewer Construction Guide

Comment Period Open through April 16

(Springfield, Ill.)  The Illinois Society of Professional Engineers along with partner organizations seek recommended updates to the 2009 Standard Specifications for Water & Sewer Construction in Illinois.  Submissions will be accepted via email between January 9 and April 16, 2013.  This construction guide is used by designers and contractors to guide the construction and installation of water, storm water, and sanitary sewer infrastructure throughout the state.

“In an attempt to remain current with the constantly evolving construction industry, ISPE and the Standard Specifications committee will undergo an update process to the 2009 Standard Specifications for Water and Sewer Construction in Illinois,” according to Dan Figola, PE, LEED AP, chair of the committee.    “This will be a quadrennial update rather than a rewrite, which was undertaken in 2009.”  The entire update will occur during calendar year 2013. 

The schedule for the update process is as follows:

  • January 9 – April 16, 2013 – Submission Period
  • April – September, 2013  – Submission Review Period
  • October – November, 2013  – Finalization of Revised Sections
  • December, 2013 – Printing

The manner for distributing updates will be announced in early Fall 2013.


Those wishing to submit changes for consideration should email the recommendations to   Submission guidelines include:

  • Provide complete contact information of the individual making the submission, including name, title, company, address, phone number, email address and role in the water/sewer system (design engineer, contractor, municipal official/public works profession, sanitary district).
  • Amendments to different sections should be submitted as separate documents.
  • List the section to be amended at the top of the first page.
  • Include supporting documentation for the change, including any ASTM, ASHTO or IDOT specifications, Illinois or US EPA guidelines.


The 2009 Standard Specifications for Water & Sewer Construction in Illinois is available through the Illinois Society of Professional Engineers.  Order forms can be found at


Managing CCDD Material in Illinois

Well now that the dust has settled on the CCDD regulations, many of us are figuring out how we are going to manage the material in order to comply with the law. Basically, the process for many of us will be some modification of the following:

Determine if the excavation is near a Potentially Impacted Property or PIP

If near a PIP and not returning the material to the excavation,

  1. Place excavated material in a pile separated from other material
  2. Mark the pile in some manner to designate where it came from
  3. Arrange for testing of the material and if not contaminated receive form LPC-663 signed by a PE/PG
  4. If testing shows material is not contaminated, take material with form LPC-663 to a CCDD fill operation
  5. If testing shows material is contaminated, take the material to a landfill


If NOT near a PIP and not returning the material to the excavation,

  1. Place excavated material in a pile separated from other material
  2. Mark the pile in some manner to designate where it came from
  3. Arrange for pH testing of the material and if not contaminted, fill out form LPC-662
  4. If testing shows material is not contaminated (a pH between 6.5 and 9.0), take material with form LPC-662 to a CCDD fill operation
  5. If testing shows material is contaminated, take the material to a landfill

If CCDD material has been painted, it cannot be placed in a CCDD fill operation unless the owner is able to certify the paint meets certain requirements and indicates this using form LPC-667.

What each company and agency will have to work out will be if they are requiring crews to fill out a customized form for each excavation to document handling of that material, who will perform all the testing, and where material will be placed while it is being tested. For some, the cost of testing material excavated near a PIP will be more than the cost to just take it to a landfill. In those cases, the policy might be to take all soil excavated from a location near a PIP directly to a landfill.

In order to assist in the management of CCDD material, companies and agencies can set up websites to inform and track the material and testing status. I put together a Google Sites template that can be used for this purpose – you can view it here: CCDD Management Site. To use this to create your own site, click the "Use Template" button in the top right corner of that site. This will bring you to the Google Sites page (make sure you are signed into your Google account – if you don't have one, you can visit this site to find out how to get one: Social Media in Public Works 101 – Introduction/Email). Your template is already selected so all you need to do is type in a name for your site, make sure the URL is what you want, then type in the funny looking characters to let Google know you are not a robot. Google will then create your site.

After your site is created, you can begin editing and customizing it for your own purposes. The CCDD Status Table can be edited and all entries and column headings changed as needed. You can also add or delete anything to the pages depending on what you want your group to see when they visit your site. Also, make sure to go in and edit any viewing permissions. Right now the site is set up to be viewed by the public. You might want to change this so only those who you give the link to or those who you invite to the site can view or edit it. Another benefit of a site like this is that users can subscribe to the site so they are notified whenever changes are made. Below is a screenshot of the sample site:

CCDD Management Site


Illinois’ CCDD Law Update

Most people working in the construction industry in Illinois are now aware of the new Clean Construction and Demolition Debris (CCDD) law that has rocked our world. With no notice and still no mention of it in the Illinois EPA news feed, this law has shut down jobs in a time when they are most needed and flooded EPA information sessions with angry, upset contractors, engineers, and others working in the industry. Since my last post on this subject, Illinois – Land of Nonengagement, I have learned more from those lucky enough to have attended these sessions. Here is a list of comments and observations they have shared:

First, not everyone is allowed in the sessions. As I pointed out before, the IEPA started out with only a handful of sessions to help explain this law to everyone. Even though I signed up, I was sent an email telling me there was no room. More sessions were scheduled, and I again sent in my request to attend. However, I never even received back any confirmation or invite or an email telling me they had no room. So professional engineers are tasked by the law with having to sign off that CCDD is clean, but we have no way of finding out what this means.

  • People attending said there was really no guidance offered at these sessions anyway. No handouts, 10 minutes of upfront introduction and basic information about the law, then 50 minutes of angry, upset people yelling, complaining, and arguing with the IEPA representatives about the complete lunacy of this law.
  • They said about four IEPA representatives ran the meeting with two trying to talk to everyone and two on laptops typing furiously as people expressed their frustration. Some felt that the group probably studied questions and statements from earlier groups to help answer the same questions that came up at later sessions.
  • Contractors at the meeting worried that they will bear the ultimate responsibility as they already have on jobs currently under way when this law hit. No owner of a project is going to sign off on these certifications; instead the contractor will have to provide a professional engineer's signature on each load hauled off a jobsite. He will also face the consequences of any dirt being rejected at the dump which means he will then lose that driver for a significant part of the day as he takes the load to a landfill. The bottom line to all this is much higher costs for all projects which will be paid by taxpayers for public projects.
  • Right now, the way the law is written, dirt hauled from home construction would be covered by this. So the cost to build homes goes up since the dirt on the site must either be tested to ensure it is clean, or the contractor will just tack on an amount to deal with any surprises. So all home construction just went up.
  • Many expressed the thought that all this will lead to "fly dumping" or the practice of sneaking out into the night at secluded areas to get rid of loads. Then the government, or taxpayers, pay to send out someone to dispose of this dirt in a landfill.
  • Others said many will just not bother with trying to get the certification – they will just take all dirt to a landfill. This just means we will need more landfills to hold dirt for no good reason. So we need more landfills to open up. And because it costs significantly more to landfill dirt, costs of all projects will go up.
  • IEPA reps could not tell anyone what the parameters were for ensuring dirt is clean or what defined contamination. They said it is up to the professional engineer to make that decision. Wow – that sure puts a lot of burden on our profession. And because we are so conservative, the tests we would take would greatly increase the cost of the project. Because who wants to put their license on the line for a load of dirt? Again this means higher costs for each project to pay for all that testing. And this does not allow for any uniformity which seems to increase the chance for litigation.
  • The IEPA reps also indicated that they felt the law governed moving dirt on a project. Someone asked if they removed dirt at station 1+00 could it be put back in the ground 100 feet away at 2+00 – they said no. That dirt would have to be hauled off the jobsite. What? That means all those years of learning the guiding principle of earthwork – mass balance – goes out the window! Based on what they said, we can no longer balance cuts and fills.
  • The other concern expressed is that at the dump, there will be someone with a device used to determine contamination. But this device only picks up volatile contaminants. If there are other wastes in the dirt such as heavy metals, no one can tell this without extensive testing. So if an engineer signs off on it, not knowing about the metals or other non-volatile contaminants, it is accepted at the dump, and then years later they test this area of the dump and decide it's a problem, is that engineer liable? No one at the session could answer this.
  • Some I have talked to said they were told by the IEPA to just sign it based on what they knew to the best of their knowledge about the excavation and tried to assure them it wasn't a big deal. But we rely on our professional engineer's license as the foundation of our career. Few of us want to jeopardize our whole career for one load of dirt. We are not trained to be so flippant and uncertain about what we sign off on.
  • The problem cities have is that we often need to dispose of dirt from water main breaks or small projects. Because this dirt from many sites can sometimes be stockpiled at a public works site, one person asked what address should be noted on the document to indicate the location from which the dirt was excavated. They said to use the address of the public works facility. But then if one of those piles was found to be contaminated, the whole pile would be contaminated and the public works site would be flagged as contaminated. The original site from where the dirt was dug would go uncited. But no further guidance was offered on how to handle this.
  • The other problem indicated is that a certified load could easily be switched out for a "hot" load. How is the engineer going to be assured that the load for which he signed is the actual load dumped with his certification? So if loads are switched out, the wrong person can end up paying to dispose of the problem material. Again, no help in how to address this concern.

There are many more problems like this – the list could go on and on. And it would be interesting to see the transcription from those sessions. Everyone seemed to agree that the IEPA was "the horse they tied this cart to." They didn't seem prepared for the onslaught of questions and complaints. And although they tried to reassure everyone the law had input from all agencies such as IDOT, the IDOT representatives at these sessions said the law was news to them, and no one from IDOT was going to sign off on these certifications. Based on what I heard, I wonder if anyone from the IEPA had any input into it. Instead attendees came away with the impression it was a law passed swiftly by our legislators and pushed by the governor to make some special interest group happy.

As engineers, we are concerned about the environment and understand the need to take steps to protect it, but we also don't believe in making decisions without considering all aspects of that step. In this case, it appears no thought was given to how this would be implemented, how it would impact the industry, what level of protection is really needed, what impact this will actually have on the environment, and how much it will cost taxpayers. All projects – public and private – will experience a significant increase in cost to accommodate this law, particularly because of its uncertainty.

Here are the legislators who sponsored this law:

Senate Sponsors Sen. Don Harmon – John J. Millner – Dan Cronin and Martin A. Sandoval

House Sponsors Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie – Jim Sacia – Patrick J. Verschoore – Thomas Holbrook – Mike Fortner, Angelo Saviano, Brandon W. Phelps, Marlow H. Colvin, Edward J. Acevedo and Luis Arroyo)

Below is a listing of all the legislators who voted on this law – at least for me, I can say my representatives were the few reasonable ones who voted NO. 

Illinois Senate vote on Public Act 96-1416, CCDD


Illinois House vote on Public Act 96-1416, CCDD


CCDD Law Passed

BiosolidsMost of us working for government at one time or another have watched our organizations respond to someone calling a politician to demand some type of law. Fortunately most elected officials realize that passing a law just because someone told you to is not always a good idea. So instead committees are created or meetings are held to discuss the proposed piece of legislation. This allows everyone – citizens, staff, elected officials, and other agencies and businesses – to offer comments on the pros and cons and costs of what was proposed. This is important because usually someone is going to think of something that might be important to know before that law is passed.

Unfortunately we occasionally learn of laws passed with no discussion or input from those affected. And most of these laws end up creating huge impacts and crippling operations for business, government, and our economy and are the type of laws suggested by special interest groups. In early August, while we were still trying to figure out the FOIA law that recently passed, we found out a new law was passed to regulate dumping of clean fill like dirt, concrete, and asphalt. 

My first inkling of something being up came from a call by our contractor asking me to sign a document as a professional engineer certifying that each load off our jobsite was free of any contamination. My initial reaction, along with a coworker's, was how can we sign something like that and why would we have to? Later that night I learned about the law, Public Act 96-1416.  You can go read it, but like most laws, it is difficult to determine exactly what this means – there is no Common Man's Guide to a Law.

The person who told me about the law explained, as our contractor suggested, that starting August 1, 2010, a landfill in Illinois can no longer take clean fill unless each load has a certification signed by a professional engineer that it is free of contaminants. But as a professional engineer, I certainly do not feel comfortable signing something like this. Questions arise such as what testing is required to determine this, what liability do I take on signing this, don't I have to follow each load to the landfill to ensure nothing else is thrown in, and so on.

So like any other person working in public works who depends on having to dump dirt on a daily basis, I need to know just what is this law and what does it mean to our department and to me as a professional engineer. Since the legislators named professional engineers as the certifying profession, you would have thought they would have asked us about the terms of the law. But no professional engineer I know had heard this law was in the works. So for a few weeks, all of us wondered what was going on.

A couple weeks after the law went into effect, we received a flyer from the Illinois EPA advertising seminars to explain what had just happened. The only problem was so many of us have been wondering what the hell is going on that they were inundated with registrations. I received an answer to my registration telling me:

"Thank you for your RSVP regarding CCDD training.  Due to an overwhelming response, we are not able to accommodate your request.  However, four more sessions have been scheduled (see attached flyer).  Please e-mail reply which session you would like to attend.  A single company or agency is limited to 2 people per session." [the bold is their emphasis – a copy of the flyer is below]

CCDD Training Flyer2

Based on all that, I have to believe the EPA was also not consulted based on this. They are normally very good at getting out information and being responsive. And there is nothing about it in their list of news releases on their main website page. They have, however, now created a page on their Website that helps explain the new law:

So it seems, we have legislation that had no input from the profession designated to certify compliance and no input from the regulating agency and no input from the contractors or landfill operators hauling the material, and no input from the governments whose operations are affected, and no input from the majority of the citizens who have to pay for the cost to comply. No one dealing with it understands it, the regulatory agency is still trying to figure out how to administer it, and we have yet to see what this is going to cost the public. 


The information, ideas, and opinions posted on this Website are my own and in no way represent or reflect those of my employer.