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What is Subsurface Utility Engineering (SUE)?

This term refers to a process which has seen considerable growth in recent years, especially in the Metro Washington D.C. region. Geophysical, Civil Engineering and Land Surveying practices combine to provide extremely accurate utility locating and mapping which is an essential part in any design, construction or utility project. These utilities can include water lines, fiber optic cables, communication lines, electric and other power lines, water lines, and gas lines. Mid-Atlantic’s services are focused on the locating and mapping of these utilities and other underground obstacles which can directly impact any design, construction or utility installation project. What is the purpose of the SUE process you may ask yourself? The answer to that question is: To save money, and protect the underground utility infrastructure.

What is utility designating.?

Utility Designating is the process of using various pieces of equipment coupled to underground utility structures for the purpose of locating and marking their approximate location on the ground surface. There are many types of this equipment that are specifically designed for this purpose. Some of the more coomon types of equipment are:

Electromagnetic or EM Locators use radio signals to create electromagnetic waves that couple to, and are conducted by, the metal within pipes and cables. These are the most common and effective types of locating equipment in the field today.

Ground Penetrating Radar uses radar waves transmitted into the ground and reflected back to the surface to determine variations or disturbances in the subsurface strata. GPR is primarily used as an indicator of whether or not we should dig.

Sonic and Seismic using sound and energy waves introduced into the ground or the utility itself to pinpoint the location of an underground utility on the earth’s surface.

There are many other methods to perform utility designating work, but these methods are the most commonly used by Mid-Atlantic field technicians.

What is a test hole? What is vacuum excavation?

The test hole is a critical part of the locating process, because it involves the actual physical locating of the utilities. While Ground Penetrating Radar and EM locators can give us a very good idea of where the utility is, nothing beats opening a hole in the earth and taking physical measurements of the utility’s depth, width, and condition. All of this information is absolutely critical when preparing a data sheet to compile our reports to project managers. At Mid-Atlantic we excavate test holes using a process referred to as “Vacuum Excavation”. It is the process of using a high velocity stream of air to break up the soil, which is then vacuumed into a storage tank. Once the utility is exposed and the results documented, each test hole location is fully restored to the conditions prior to excavation. Vacuum excavation is often utilized to excavate areas where mechanical methods are not safe for various reasons. This technology has frequently been utilized at sensitive sites such as nuclear power plants and large industrial complexes where a single utility damage or outage can have widespread or tragic consequences

What is a Test Hole Form?

This is the data sheet we use to prepare reports on utility location, type, depth, and width after digging for the utility. We also document other necessary information such as pavement type and thickness, soil conditions and utility conditions.

What is GPR?

GPR, Ground Penetrating Radar, is a scanning device which uses radar pulses to image the subsurface. This non-destructive method uses electromagnetic radiation in the microwave band (UHF/VHF frequencies) of the radio spectrum, and detects the reflected signals from subsurface structures. GPR can be used in a variety of media, including rock, soil, ice, fresh water, pavements and structures. It can detect objects, changes in material, and voids and cracks. The depth range of GPR is limited by the electrical conductivity of the ground, the transmitted center frequency and the radiated power. As conductivity increases, the penetration depth also decreases. This is because the electromagnetic energy is more quickly dissipated into heat, causing a loss in signal strength at depth. GPR is not as effective in clay rich soils, and is highly effective in sand or sandy soils.

What training & certifications does MAUL have?

Mid-Atlantic’s training and certifications are comprehensive. We are OSHA certified and our training includes VDOT traffic management, railway safety, asbestos and orange soil handling as well as confined space entry certification. We can also handle VUPS ticket entry as well as permitting procedures.

How do you prepare for a visit from a MAUL crew?

When Mid-Atlantic sends a crew into the field, there are some things our clients can to do help the process move smoothly. These range from simple things like ensuring that manhole covers do not have vehicles parked on top of them, and try to remove any obstacles which may impede access to any aboveground utility structures as well. You can also check your own records or archives for any utility mapping or utility information which may have been generated in the past.

What kind of site management can you expect from MAUL?

Mid-Atlantic crews are qualified in traffic management, and the regulations which govern it, whther in the District of Columbia, Virginia or Maryland. We own all of our own traffic manage,ment equipment, from traffic cones to arrow boards. Our field crews also keep their work sites clean, and restore the site to its original condition. We also maintain the integrity of sites at secure facilities, especially when working on DoD, energy, or other government installations.

Does Mid-Atlantic provide any training?

We conduct a Continuing Education program to assist Professional Engineers with their CE credits. In the form of a lunch-and-learn education program entitled "Introduction to Subsurface Utility Engineering." Contact us if you would like to schedule such an event, and we will be happy to accommodate you.



A few facts about Mid-Atlantic Utility Locating:

  • 95+ years of combined
    field experience

  • 2.5 million linear feet of utilities marked annually

  • 800+ test holes dug
    every year

  • Certified for Confined- space Entry work

  • Fully equipped for
    traffic management

  • Asbestos, Orange Soils & Respirator trained

  • CSX & MWAA Railway Safety trained

  • Experienced in working at secure locations


Test Hole measurement.

Vacuum excavation.

Test hole being dug through asphalt.

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