Technology can play a vital role in debris monitoring, providing a range of benefits that can help to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of debris removal efforts. Here are the top five benefits of technology in debris monitoring:

1.    Increased accuracy: Technology can help to improve the accuracy of debris monitoring by providing real-time data that is less prone to human error. This can be particularly valuable when it comes to tracking the location and quantity of debris, as it allows for more precise estimates of the resources that will be needed to remove it.

2.    Greater efficiency: Technology can also help to increase the efficiency of debris monitoring by automating certain tasks and processes. For example, using an ADMS limits and filters the data that can be used to create a ticket based on validation minimizes human error and decreases the cost of revising ticket data on the backend. This can help to speed up the debris removal process and allow affected communities to recover more quickly.

3.    Enhanced communication: Technology can also facilitate better communication among debris monitoring teams, allowing them to share information and coordinate their efforts more effectively.

4.    Improved safety: The use of technology can also help to improve the safety of debris monitoring teams, by providing tools that allow them to work more safely and efficiently. For example, mapping software can assist in identifying areas that are flooded and inaccessible and location sharing provides supervisors and managers with a near real-time location to find them should there be an accident or the employee requires assistance.

5.    Greater transparency: Finally, technology can help to increase transparency in the debris monitoring process, by providing a record of all activities and data that is easily accessible to all stakeholders. This can help to build trust and confidence in the debris removal process, as it allows for greater transparency and accountability.

Overall, technology can provide a range of benefits to debris monitoring, helping to improve the accuracy, efficiency, communication, safety, and transparency of debris removal efforts.

While technology has done a great service to the industry by automating redundant tasks, validating data and invoices, and providing near real-time reports, there are several potential negative impacts of technology on debris monitoring:

1.    Dependence on technology: One potentially negative impact is that reliance on technology can create a dependence on it, leading to a lack of flexibility if the technology fails or is not available. This can make it difficult to accurately monitor debris removal if technology is not functioning as intended.

2.    Data accuracy: Another potential negative impact is that technology can sometimes produce inaccurate data. This can be due to a variety of factors, such as a human error in data entry, or technical issues with the equipment. Inaccurate data can lead to incorrect conclusions being drawn about the debris situation, which can impact the effectiveness of debris removal efforts.

3.    Data security: There is also a risk that data collected through technology may be vulnerable to security breaches or unauthorized access. This can compromise the confidentiality of the data and may lead to unauthorized use or manipulation of the data.

4.    Cost: Finally, the use of technology for debris monitoring can be expensive, as it often requires the purchase of specialized equipment and software. This can be a significant cost for local governments and other organizations, which may limit the use of technology for debris monitoring.

5.    Complacency: The use of technology can also lead to complacency in determining eligibility for debris removal. It is important to remember that technology is only as good as the data inputted into it, and that manual checks should still be conducted to ensure that eligibility criteria are being met. This is especially important when it comes to ensuring compliance with laws and regulations.

It’s important to remember and recognize that technology, such as Automated Debris Management Software (ADMS) is a tool to assist in debris management but it does not replace training and experience. The data collected is only as good as the person who collected it, garbage in = garbage out. If the person monitoring the debris removal lacks proper training on identifying eligible versus ineligible debris, differentiating between various debris types, or does not stop work when the work threatens the crew, environment, or endangered species and critical habitat then an ADMS cannot mitigate that risk.

It’s also important to understand how an ADMS works. What process does the data navigate when collected at the start of a ticket cycle from a collection point (cradle) through final disposition (grave), what quality control mechanisms need to be in place through that process, and how are tickets reconciled with contractor invoices to ensure payment and reimbursement for the affected entity. Without a global understanding of the process, recovery remains reliant on the hope that everyone clicked the correct button. If technology failed tomorrow, could your debris management team still monitor?

The takeaway: Provide proper training and guidance, and then lean on technology for better automation. Never rely on it.

Chris Denney

Program Manager, Debris Services

Chris Denney is an established emergency management professional with over 17 years of experience in debris management, project management, data management, and disaster response. He is thoroughly trained in disaster debris monitoring processes, procedures, and best practices.

He has successfully led personnel for many debris monitoring operations including major hurricanes, floods, ice/winter storms, tornados, and oil spills. He has managed and secured funding for more than 10 million cubic yards of disaster-generated debris.