Driving Decisions with Data Dashboards
Across Tetra Tech’s markets, nearly all clients share the need for actionable information that can drive decision making. Big data began bursting onto the scene some 25 years ago, inundating our information-hungry clients with megabytes and gigabytes of facts and figures that soon became a flood of petabytes and zettabytes. Managers thirsty for relevant intelligence were drowning in oceans of data, wondering what was important, what was essential, and what was urgent information.
In response to the need for timely and relevant information that can be analyzed, Tetra Tech employees from many facets of engineering, science, and technology began to apply methodologies to identify, analyze, and report mission-critical information. This article explores some of the ways we are Leading with Science® by using innovative data analytics techniques and digital dashboards—tools that integrate, display, and analyze key data—to help our clients gain insights that allow them to improve customer service and efficiency, make decisions in real time, and even use predictive analytics to steer toward the best future outcome.
Helping Houston recover from Hurricane Harvey
Information is a critical ally when you are supporting a major city get back on its feet. When Hurricane Harvey first reached the Texas coast in August 2017, no one foresaw how long it would stay or how wet it would be. After a week of epic rainfall that eclipsed prior storm totals—from 3 to 4 feet or more in some places—Harvey went into the record books as one of the Gulf Coast’s most destructive and unwelcome guests. Ever.
As the flood waters subsided in early September, local officials began to take stock of their saturated cities. Houston was hit hard, with flooded streets and neighborhoods, along with the many facilities in downtown. In some areas, the water took weeks to recede, resulting in a slow-motion cleanup saga that had residents creating 10-foot-tall piles of debris from their flooded homes—drywall, flooring, furniture, cabinets, and carpet—along the flooded streets of the city.
Tetra Tech’s Houston office had worked with the City in earlier flood events and was immediately requested to help organize, manage, and report on the massive debris removal effort. The task was formidable: State officials estimated that nearly 20 million cubic yards of debris needed to be managed across Texas, with more than one-third of that volume originating in Houston and the rest of Harris County.
As Tetra Tech tackled the debris challenge, the extent of Houston’s support needs became clear. Data collection work was extensive—scheduling reports, truck dispatches, labor hours, equipment rental costs, and tracking debris volume, type, storage, and destination (e.g., landfill or recycling center). In addition, the City needed detailed information to recover the disaster response costs. Tetra Tech Disaster Recovery (TDR) employees Ralph Natale, Jeffrey Dickerson, and Donald Kunish set up the initial data management tools using a combination of a customized and tablet-based field reporting app, RecoveryTracTM, Esri ArcGIS, Microsoft (MS) SharePoint, and MS Access based on their work at previous disasters.
The tools were adequate for early data collection efforts related to immediate disaster response, but Tetra Tech staff saw the opportunity to add an integrated platform that could support more sophisticated data management to support long-term disaster recovery.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) requires highly granular data to support grant application and reimbursement. To support that requirement, the Tetra Tech team needed to incrementally implement an integrated and comprehensive data collection, management, and reporting system by expanding and linking existing tools to a broader and more robust platform. Tetra Tech’s Federal Information Technology (FIT) and TDR groups collaborated on identifying ways to implement a solution to provide improved efficiencies and greater capabilities while minimizing disruption of ongoing efforts.
The result is a networked and highly functional framework for collecting, managing, and using the flood of incoming data to visualize the progress of damage inventory collection and recovery using real-time dashboards. Drill-down features into the data allow the review of detailed cost estimates for repairs to existing buildings and facilities. The dashboards also are being used to download and analyze the data for the development of mitigation strategies that will reduce the risk of future loss, as well as scopes of work for the City to use in completing repairs.
The data are enabling Tetra Tech’s hazard mitigation and flood protection experts to develop options for the City, both at small and larger scales. The City expects to receive approximately $2 billion from FEMA for repairs to public buildings and infrastructure. The City’s goal is to leverage some of these funds to rebuild a more resilient, sustainable Houston that provides more benefits to residents. Our experts are helping City leaders make data-driven decisions to reach their goals.
Cleaning up the core of the Big Apple
New York City eats, sleeps, moves, and works by truck—all kinds of trucks of every size imaginable. Recognizing that older trucks can belch unhealthy levels of black smoke into the urban air, the New York City Department of Transportation (NYCDOT) conceived a unique and engaging initiative six years ago to address the problem. The initial concept for the Hunts Point Clean Trucks Program (HPCTP) was to target truck owners serving the Hunts Point and Port Morris communities of the South Bronx, which has the state’s highest incidence of respiratory disease. The program would offer attractive rebate incentives to scrap older, heavy-polluting trucks (e.g., up to $30,000 for a Class 8 diesel) in favor of new diesel, diesel-hybrid, compressed natural gas, or battery electric trucks. Rebates for installing exhaust retrofits would be determined on a case-by-case basis.
Tetra Tech’s team, led by Air Quality Director Eddy Huang, secured the initial HPCTP contract in 2011 and recently received a 5-year extension. The NYCDOT secured a $24-million grant through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program to offset the cost of truck replacements and retrofits. Another $600,000 was secured under the City of New York’s Vision Zero Action Plan to fund early adoption of truck safety enhancements to improve vehicle, bicycle, and pedestrian safety.
The program team conducts truck owner outreach, truck fleet analyses, cost-benefit analyses (i.e., cost per pound per ton of reduced emissions), and truck use compliance tracking and operates a customer service helpline. They manage vendor and grant applicant contracts; monitor vehicle scrappage; and report on program compliance, enforcement, and emissions reduction. “The HPCTP has replaced, retrofitted, or scrapped around 600 older, heavy-polluting diesel trucks from the South Bronx and NYC—along with 28 older, diesel-fueled portable refrigeration units,” said Eddy.
An automated monitoring system collects truck data, logging the location, engine status, and speed of all participating vehicles. The data collection, management, and reporting effort involves large volumes of structured and unstructured data generated daily. The team has focused on database development and data trend studies and conducts automatic vehicle locator data analysis for NYCDOT’s compliance enforcement program. Reports include route maps, tabular data, and time-series graphs.
The data overlay on a map of portions of New York City and New Jersey represents the 24-hour movement of approximately 500 trucks funded under the NYCDOT HPCTP; monitoring includes peak and off-hour vehicle use, vehicle idling, and traffic speed for private fleets.
HPCTP’s benefits are extensive. Truck owners get new, emission-compliant trucks that require less maintenance and use less fuel, providing big cost savings. Their clients see proactive businesses that are implementing greener supply chain policies. Pedestrians, bicyclists, and other vehicles have a greater chance of avoiding and surviving accidents with trucks equipped with enhanced safety features. And the greater New York City area has seen a reduction in harmful emissions resulting from replacing, retrofitting, and scraping older heavy-polluting trucks—a win for all parties.
The HPCTP won a C40 Cities 2017 Award in the Mobility category. When informing our team of the award, Susan McSherry, NYCDOT Alternative Fuel Program manager, noted that the HPCTP’s success “is not possible without the great team at Tetra Tech.” Read more at tetratech.com/HPCTPaward.
Weaving a HydroWebbed data dashboard
The most effective dashboards transform complexity into simplicity, so managers can stay abreast of rapidly changing conditions. Tetra Tech software expert Jean-François Pouliot helped to design HydroWeb, a data dashboard that monitors water and sewer flows, identifies line breaks, predicts overflows, anticipates the impact of heavy rains, and projects water quality conditions over the next 24 hours.
“We designed HydroWeb to link various types of operational and hydraulic data within a web-based GIS interface for monitoring, prediction, and analysis,” Jean-François said. “The system includes data acquisition and archiving from public and private sources such as water stations, hydrometrics stations, and city equipment. HydroWeb integrates the data on a customized dashboard linked to GIS maps and features such as water or sewer system schematics, email or text message warning notifications, and access to archived data, depending on client needs.”
HydroWeb monitors real-time rainfall progression through updates of radar images, rain gauge data, and video feeds and analyzes rainfall return periods and other parameters. The program transforms the raw data it receives into actionable information that decision makers can use.
The platform is designed to be flexible for multiple projects and users, including operations and maintenance departments, civil security agencies, engineering departments, and legal affairs users such as insurance companies. “We can build a system to monitor and manage just about anything dependent on time-series databases,” Jean-François said. “We have been doing mostly sewer system work—capacity monitoring, sewer overflow prediction and analysis, and so on—but there are lots of possibilities.”
HydroWeb debuted in Quebec City in 2007 and has grown in both capability and geographic reach. Jean-François notes that the team’s Canadian and U.S. sewer and water practice is very busy. They have designed a version for beach bacteria monitoring, are talking with clients interested in air quality, and have been working on a proposal for monitoring data at large landfills.
Driving HydroWeb’s popularity is its ability to integrate reams of Tetra Tech-normalized data from a wide range of sources. “People everywhere have lots of data coming at them, and they want to track it in a way that’s organized and efficient, and notifies them when things are not going right,” Jean-François said. “We can tailor an approach that meets their needs. We save them time, and we save them money. They like that.”
Learn more at hydroweb.tetratech.com.
Tracking power plant end-user efficiencies
Tetra Tech’s broad portfolio of data visualization services extends into the energy market, where the company supports innovative wind, solar, geothermal, and conventional power projects. Tetra Tech Project Manager, Lark Lee, and Energy Data Management Specialist, Dan Belknap, help the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUCT) evaluate energy efficiency initiatives for the state’s nine public utilities.
“Texas requires that public utilities report data related to reductions in energy consumption, peak demand for power, and other parameters,” said Lark. “We work with the utilities to collect that data, so PUCT can have a consolidated view of energy efficiency programs across the state.
“We see the full range of results of what is happening at the facilities served by the power companies,” Lark said. “A lot of it relates to equipment such as HVAC units, lighting, and refrigeration. Significant advancements in efficiency show up in the data.”
“The project has generated more than 1 million records over the past 5 years,” said Dan. “That is a lot to process. We have automated as much as possible to reduce labor and improve accuracy. The goal is to provide PUCT with the information they need to verify utilities’ progress towards their annual goals. We produce data visualization tools and provide follow-up verification through phone surveys, on-site visits, and regular communication with utilities.”
The group collects, analyzes, and reports the data through several software and processing vehicles. “In cases without direct metering, we conduct energy use estimates via engineering software and other calculations,” Dan said. The team also uses MS Excel for simple analyses and MS SQL Server for more complex data analytics. Dashboard displays are based in part on MS Power BI tools. They also work in Esri’s ArcGIS for map visualizations and geographic analysis and use R software for statistical computing and graphics.
Lark and Dan are part of a core of Tetra Tech professionals, led by Bonnie Brandreth, who are pioneering data-driven decision-making support through market research, data modeling, and statistical analysis. “We have been doing this for the energy sector and other clients for a long time, starting in the 1980s,” Bonnie said. “Now, some states have hard targets for energy reductions to help avoid or delay construction of new power plants, reduce carbon footprints, and support low-income energy programs and for other purposes.
“We have evaluated more than 500 energy efficiency programs across the United States over the past 30 years,” Bonnie added. “The demand for analytical services is greater than ever. Clients recognize the power of data analytics in solving real-world business problems, but the process can be intimidating. We give them a way to visualize that information and make decision-making easier.”
Read more about data analytics in the energy sector in our interview with Bonnie at tetratech.com/experts.
Using 3-D data visualization in aviation and beyond
Tetra Tech’s recent acquisition, BridgeNet, A Tetra Tech Company, uses a combination of 3-dimensional (3-D) visualization and user-friendly dashboards to help technical and nontechnical audiences make decisions regarding airport operations. BridgeNet developed Volans, an innovative, proprietary 3-D airspace visualization software tool to analyze and display airspace data and procedures that can analyze environmental and operational efficiency to determine benefits and risks associated with new flight procedure development.
BridgeNet is working closely with one of the country’s busiest airports to assess its operations, documenting number and types of aircraft, departures and arrival times, and overall volume of aircraft using the airport. Tetra Tech’s data analytics experts create dashboards using MS Power BI, which integrates data seamlessly and displays the information in real time.
Clients for this easy-to-use, responsive, and functionally rich data visualization tool include the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration; Air Navigation Service Providers in Canada, Australia, and France; and major U.S. and international airports.
The volume of data generated in our industry grows every day. Our challenge is to sift through vast data sets, identify critical information needed to make meaningful decisions, and present that information in a simplified, usable format. Throughout its markets—from disaster recovery to water, environment, energy, aviation, and beyond—Tetra Tech helps clients harness the power of their data to boost success throughout project life cycles.