Sunday, August 25, 2019

Meet the neglected 43-year-old, Seattle-based stepchild of the U.S. military industrial complex - Seattle Times

Meet the neglected 43-year-old, Seattle-based stepchild of the U.S. military industrial complex - Seattle Times

Meet the neglected 43-year-old, Seattle-based stepchild of the U.S. military industrial complex - Seattle Times

Posted: 15 Aug 2019 12:00 AM PDT

The icebreaker Polar Star was 1,000 miles out of its home port of Seattle last December, three days into its yearly voyage to resupply scientific bases in Antarctica, when a powerful swell hit its bow and flooded the deck.

The ship shuddered.

The roar of the ventilators in the galley quit as Joseph Sellar, a stocky 25-year-old Coast Guard culinary specialist from New Hampshire, watched seawater explode from the ceiling.

He lunged toward a switch to close the overhead vents. With a loud pop, an outlet ejected a purple spark.

"Are we sinking?" asked a petty officer on temp duty from Virginia.

Sellar knew better.

"Calm down," he said, whipping out his cellphone to record the gusher.

The United States spends $2 billion a day on the most advanced military ever assembled, with more aircraft carriers, fighter planes and nuclear submarines than any other nation. The Pentagon intends to develop a space fleet of orbiting lasers, missile sensors and satellites.


Then there is the Polar Star.

The only U.S. ship capable of bludgeoning through heavy ice, it is the neglected 43-year-old stepchild of the U.S. military industrial complex.

After decades of abuse, the vessel lists to port, but its sewer pipes drain to starboard, jamming and overflowing toilets. Rust coats decks, hatches and ladders. Lead paint peels from walls marked with warnings of asbestos.

While Russia will soon have more than 50 icebreakers, the fire-engine-red ship lumbers on as a Cold War relic.

Crew members scour eBay for discontinued replacement parts. A petty officer who used a surfboard repair kit to fix a generator, saving the ship from encroaching ice, received an award from the Coast Guard commandant.

Each time the ship makes the 11,500-mile journey to Antarctica, it falls apart. Turbines quit. Seals rupture. Resistors fail. Then it limps home for months of repairs.

The torrent that inundated the galley Dec. 1 destroyed the top oven, subjecting the crew to cold cuts for a week while a $50,000 replacement was flown to Honolulu, the ship's next port. Machinery that desalinates water also broke.


As problems went, these were not especially unusual for the Polar Star.

"She's an old beast, and you gotta know how to run her," Sellar says. "You can't just turn the key."

Research in Antarctica

The sun rises in Antarctica each October and doesn't set again until February.

It's the austral summer, the season of science, when more than 1,000 researchers and support staff live at McMurdo Station – a jumble of dorms and dozens of other buildings located on the Ross Sea's Winter Quarters Bay – and the much smaller Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station 1,000 miles inland.

The population at the two U.S. bases shrinks to fewer than 100 during the southern winter, when darkness sets in and polar temperatures can plunge lower than 100 degrees below zero.

But the research conducted in Antarctica can't be done anywhere else.

Scientists have drilled down more than 2 miles for ice cores that show how the climate has changed over thousands of years. Research on how emperor penguins endure extreme pressure during deep dives has led to improvements in anesthesia.

The frigid conditions, ideal for some of the world's most sophisticated telescopes, enabled astronomers worldwide to capture the first photograph of a black hole.

None of this would have been possible without the Polar Star.

Most Read Nation & World Stories

It debuted in 1976 as one of the world's most powerful nonnuclear ships. Six diesel locomotive engines and three gas turbines generate 75,000 horsepower to spin propellers as big around as grain silos.

Engineers at Lockheed Shipbuilding & Construction Co. shaped its hardened-steel hull – 399 feet long and 83 feet wide – like a football, pointed at both stem and stern. With a draft as deep as an aircraft carrier, the Polar Star can rock, ram and reverse through ice up to 21 feet thick.

That's what it takes to reach McMurdo year after year, carving a path for a freighter loaded with everything the scientists need to survive.


Operation Deep Freeze, as the annual mission is known, has often been brutal, but never more so than in 2006, when massive icebergs clogged the Ross Sea, forcing the Polar Star to ram through a record 97 miles of ice.

The ship made it through just one more season before commanders moved to retire it.

They relied instead on its slightly younger sibling, the Polar Sea – an arrangement that lasted until 2011, when that ship suffered a catastrophic engine failure and the Coast Guard relegated it to a Seattle dock as a parts donor.

A $62 million repair job resurrected the Polar Star, but the years sitting idle meant its machinery and wiring would never be the same.

The indignities

Two days after the flood that destroyed the oven, engineers smelled smoke coming from an old Westinghouse electrical panel in the ship's main control room.

Peeling open the metal cabinet, they found the culprit: a burned-out coil the size of a coffee can. Without it, the port propeller was useless.


A backup was nowhere to be found in the ship's parts shop, which stores 5,000 replacements for items judged most likely to fail. So electricians back in Seattle extracted the identical coil from the Polar Sea and sent it by air to Honolulu.

The Polar Star chugged into Pearl Harbor, using a gas-guzzling turbine usually reserved for ice-breaking. The next day, the ship suffered yet another indignity: Its whistle stuck.

For two minutes, the foghorn echoed across Pearl Harbor.

Journey continues

The Polar Star spent six days in port before embarking again on Dec. 10, its port propeller and desalination machinery working.

Crew members were relieved. But the next day, the desalination unit quit again, forcing the crew to skip laundry and limit showers to two minutes.

Still, the ship lumbered across the equator at a steady 18 mph. Capt. Gregory Stanclik remained upbeat at briefings as he addressed crew members lined up on the rear deck, swaying in unison against the waves.

On Dec. 22, Stanclik made a much-anticipated "swim call," halting the ship so sailors could plunge into the azure sea 260 miles west of New Caledonia.


But that evening he delivered more bad news: Their paychecks were about to stop.

President Donald Trump had hit an impasse with Congress over funding for his wall along the border with Mexico, shutting down much of the federal government.

With internet service often down, officers authorized extra satellite-phone time. Christmas greetings over scratchy connections gave way to anxious talk with faraway family members of rent bills and loan payments.

If there was any solace, it was the next port. On New Year's, crew members joined more than a million spectators awed by fireworks that showered Australia's Sydney Harbor with gold, purple and silver.

The next stage of the voyage – through the Southern Ocean – proved especially rough as massive waves battered the ship.

Crew members rolled from bunks. Dinner plates sailed off tables, slamming against walls.


But at least the ship was moving. On Jan. 9, it reached the ice edge at McMurdo Sound. The vessel that had loomed large by Seattle's Space Needle seemed to shrink like a toy boat against the glaring expanse of white.

On Jan. 9, it reached the ice edge at McMurdo Sound. The vessel that had loomed large by Seattle's Space Needle seemed to shrink like a toy boat against the glaring expanse of white.

Seventeen miles of ice, 6 to 10 feet thick, stood between the ship and McMurdo Station.

Plowing through the frozen sea

A compartment resembling a crane cab, perched atop the ship 155 feet above the ice, shook violently as Lt. Cmdr. Karen Kutkiewicz gripped engine control levers. At 5 feet 5, she stood on tiptoes on a wooden box.

The rattling of window frames and ceiling tiles competed with the Christian rock playing from her smartphone. Kutkiewicz, 35, wore dark glasses against the fireball of sun that circled the ship every 24 hours.

Slowly, she backed the Polar Star a half-ship's length. Then firmly, she pushed the throttles from half-speed to full.


The ship's bulbous prow thrust upward, riding a ledge, penguins scattering in its path. Then it crashed through the ice sheet. Glistening boulder-sized shards broke off, bobbing toward the stern.

On the dashboard, an indicator light flashed red. A black wall phone jangled. "You're overloading the port shaft," said a voice from Main Control, deep below decks.

It was a refrain familiar to Kutkiewicz and the other four ice pilots who rotated in three-hour shifts around the clock.

The ship was now a 13,500-ton jackhammer.

What could go wrong?

Four days and 4 miles into the ice, the Polar Star sprang a leak.

Seawater sprayed through a broken fitting into a cramped compartment that houses the shaft turning the main propeller, which drives water past the rudder.

Without a speedy fix to regain steerage, the Polar Star would face a nightmare scenario: getting stuck in ice as the ocean froze around it.


With no other heavy icebreakers in its fleet, the U.S. would have little choice but to rely on foreign help for a rescue.

Crew members figured that if anyone could plug the hole, it would be chief engineer Brad Jopling, the son of a Montana heavy-equipment mechanic. Jopling, 40, never complained about being woken at odd hours by mechanics presenting handfuls of broken parts.

A portable pump slowed the water's rise while he and his team devised a plan.

Two Navy divers suited up. Laden with ropes, rubber mats and heavy plastic wrap, they were about to descend 30 feet to Polar Star's idled propellers when a watch officer noticed a different threat: a pod of killer whales.

Two hours later, the divers finally splashed into the water and bound the mats around the leaking prop shaft where it protruded from the hull. The hope was that, wrapped in plastic, the mats would form enough of a seal to slow the flow.

On a second try, they managed to cut the stream to a trickle.


The plan had worked.

Jopling and an assistant crawled back into the compartment, staving off the cold with jokes about working without pay. Crouching in water up to their necks, they used a wrench adapted in the ship's welding shop to remove and replace the fitting.

"If you don't mind, it don't matter," Jopling liked to say.

But he cared deeply for the ship and worked not just to fix it but to make it stronger.

"You bleed into it, and pour your heart and soul into it," he said. "All you got to do is get everyone home safe, and make it better."

The leak and repair had halted the ship for more than 30 hours. Some crew members had seized the opportunity to take in the stark beauty of a continent that had no countries, currency, cities or hotels.

In his stateroom, Stanclik held the crumbling part between his thumb and forefinger. The brittle fitting, an inch and a quarter in diameter, had been mistakenly installed during a previous repair.


It was made of mild steel instead of corrosion-resistant copper nickel.

Cause for alarm

The Polar Star suffered ship-wide power outages twice over the next 11 days. Steel bars meant to stabilize propeller shafts broke so many times that engineers ran out of the 8-inch bolts needed to repair them.

McMurdo sent four more bolts in a helicopter, which set down on the ice because the ship's flight deck was no longer certified for landings. A crane lowered Jopling in a "man basket" to walk out and retrieve them.

On Jan. 24, the Polar Star finally docked at McMurdo. That night, in light of the Coast Guard's continued lack of pay, scientists passed the hat for a $1,500 bar tab at the station's three watering holes.

It was good timing: The federal shutdown ended the next day.

The ship spent two weeks at the base, not counting a jaunt back through the channel to the outer edge of the ice to meet the Ocean Giant. The freighter, loaded with 400 cargo containers, followed just 500 feet behind the icebreaker to prevent the space between them from freezing over.


At the dock, workers unloaded containers stowed with 52,000 chicken breasts, ground beef for 33,000 hamburgers, dough for 123,000 cookies, 18 concrete foundation footers, a tractor-trailer and a construction elevator.

The day before the Polar Star departed McMurdo, Stanclik let crew members walk out on the ice sheet for a few hours. Some played touch football. One group admired seals and an emperor penguin. Kutkiewicz broke out her cross-country skis.

But the sense of peace was short-lived.

On Feb. 11, one day into the trip home, another fire broke out. Then another.

Courtney Will, a damage-control petty officer, was working in the ship's coffee shop two levels below the main deck when she heard a boom.

"Well, that didn't sound right," she said to a co-worker.

Six hundred and fifty miles north of Antarctica, sirens blared.

On more modern ships, crew members can remotely activate sprinkler systems or chemical retardants. Not on the Polar Star.

Will, 25, darted into the ship's damage-control locker and pulled on a bulky firefighting suit, mask, helmet, boots and an air tank.


She grabbed a thermal imaging sensor and led two other firefighters up two flights of steep stairs. They shoved open a door. The ship's incinerator was ablaze.

Will elbowed her nozzle man forward. The first blast of water from the hose hit hot metal, unleashing a wall of steam as flames darted toward the ceiling.

Will called for more water. She had to prevent flames from exploding a sludge tank across the room. But she knew that flooding the oil-streaked floor would create more hazards.

"Short bursts!" she yelled.

A shot of purple fire retardant cut through the steam. Another team took a turn.

Two hours later, the fire was out.

The future

The Polar Star pulled into port in Seattle on March 11.

Four days later, the Coast Guard announced that a Mississippi company would build a new heavy icebreaker by 2024 for $746 million.

It was a major triumph for a branch of the military long neglected by Congress.


Even so, Coast Guard commanders and allies in Congress say the U.S. will need more icebreakers as climate change reshapes the polar regions. Enough ice has melted to open Arctic shipping lanes – at least seasonally – as well as areas that hold rare-earth metals and perhaps a quarter of the earth's undiscovered oil and gas.

Coast Guard officials say that more ships in the Arctic mean more potential accidents and rescues, more smuggling to interdict, more terrorists to stop, and greater need to assert U.S. sovereignty in the nation's economic zones extending 230 miles from shore.

They expect the Polar Star to remain in service at least seven more years to accompany the new vessel to Antarctica for two seasons as a backup.

That would make it a half-century old.

And so in April the ship traveled from Seattle to the California port of Vallejo, where tugboats nudged it into a slip and onto blocks. Muddy water drained from around the scarred hull.

Workers swarmed the ship like a pit crew at Indianapolis. They would strip down and rebuild engines and turbines. They'd patch up the desalination units yet again. They'd place the three 85,000-pound propellers on wide-load trucks to haul them 600 miles to Oregon for reconditioning.

They had five months to overhaul the Polar Star for next season.

TRAFFIC: Route 51 north in Pleasant Hills reopens - Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

TRAFFIC: Route 51 north in Pleasant Hills reopens  Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Work has finished on a section of Route 51 northbound in Pleasant Hills damaged after a water main burst 24 hours earlier. The heavily traveled roadway has ...

States On Hook For Pollution Beyond Gold King: Contractor - Law360

States On Hook For Pollution Beyond Gold King: Contractor  Law360

A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency contractor told a federal court that Utah and New Mexico can't escape its bid to recover cleanup costs in the multidistrict ...

Hickory neighbors deal with devastating damage after storm - FOX 46 Charlotte

Hickory neighbors deal with devastating damage after storm - FOX 46 Charlotte

Hickory neighbors deal with devastating damage after storm - FOX 46 Charlotte

Posted: 14 Aug 2019 12:00 AM PDT

- A sunny afternoon changed in an instant in Hickory. For Chassidy Rowe, she saw the severe weather alert, and rushed home to be with her kids. She wasn't home long when a tree landed on top of their house and car.

"Something just told me something wasn't right, so I got my son, my two-year-old son, who was asleep in his crib and as soon as I grabbed him, I heard windows shatter across the house," she told FOX 46. 

The damage was extensive.

"Our dining room ceiling is now on the bottom of the first floor," Rowe said. "We ran downstairs where the water pipes had burst and were now flooding the house. We just tried to get out as soon as we could."

The family just finished remodeling the basement, and they've only lived at the home on Shiloh Church Road for two years. They're counting their blessings, though; their family is safe including their cat and dog. The dog was in its dog house that now sits right under the fallen tree.

The cleanup began almost immediately after the storm passed. Further down on Shiloh Church Road, crews cleared a tree that fell, and was blocking the road.

A tree also toppled across 38th Street Drive NE.

At Bethlehem Pharmacy, the pharmacist says they hunkered down.

"Obviously got everybody to the back of the store because that's your first concern and it was just a surprise to see those doors come out," said Gary Sain.

The doors to the pharmacy shattered. Now, plywood covers what would have been a gaping hole in the front of the store. On Northwest drive, a tree came crashing down on another house. Neighbors said they were thankful, so far, they haven't heard of any injuries.

"We'll rebound," said Rodney Walsh. "We'll probably have to do some cutting some wood up and stuff like that, but we'll get it cleaned up and we'll get it back to looking good again."

“There's an App for That: SRP's Mobile Software Solution - Transmission & Distribution World” plus 2 more

“There's an App for That: SRP's Mobile Software Solution - Transmission & Distribution World” plus 2 more

There's an App for That: SRP's Mobile Software Solution - Transmission & Distribution World

Posted: 13 Aug 2019 12:00 AM PDT

Like their peers at other utilities and government agencies, Salt River Project field employees have found creative ways to incorporate mobile technologies. An electric and water utility that provides service to more than 2 million residents in the metropolitan area of Phoenix, Arizona, U.S., Salt River Project (SRP) leverages smartphone-captured digital photos for a variety of purposes in many of its departments. Most noteworthy are the troubleshooting and line maintenance departments, which use field-captured photos to improve the utility's responsiveness to power outages.

Troubleshooters are SRP's first responders to outages. They are responsible for identifying the root cause of an outage and initiating work orders that trigger repair and replacement of damaged infrastructure. During the initial outage triage, SRP troubleshooters capture photos that are sent to the assigned line maintenance crew to give a clear picture of the damaged assets. This improves the crew's ability to arrive on-site with the needed materials, equipment and expertise to complete infrastructure repair or replacement activities.

Overview and workflow of the GeoTAP application

An overview of the GeoTAP (Geographic Take-A-Picture) application and photo capture workflow.

SRP troubleshooter capturing photos with GeoTAP Mobile

SRP troubleshooter, capturing photos of a fusing cubicle with GeoTAP Mobile.

Line maintenance crews also capture photos of work in progress during prolonged power outages and severe weather events. These photos are sent to the SRP media relations team, who shares them with the general public through local news outlets and social media. The troubleshooters' photos are provided to the SRP damage claim and legal departments to document incidents for which SRP should be reimbursed or may be subject to litigation. With many use cases, photos are important digital information assets to the utility. For this reason, SRP has implemented a software solution, with a mobile application, to streamline and improve the capture, upload, storage and management of photos taken by field employees.

GeoTAP Solution

Coined GeoTAP by SRP staff, the geographic take-a-picture software solution includes both web and mobile applications. Installed on smartphones, GeoTAP Mobile is integrated with the phone's camera, which enables field employees to capture photos directly within the app. Photos are grouped by event and can be categorized by field employees. GeoTAP Web is used by recipients of the photos.

Comments can be captured for each event and every photo. The app uses an interactive map to enable field employees to override the computed location of the global positioning system (GPS). Date, time, current user and location (X-Y coordinates) are captured for all events and photos. Unlike an email-based photo transfer process, the app supports an unlimited number of photos for each event. When all photos are captured for an event, the field employee uploads the photos and data to the SRP central photo repository using a cellular network. This upload is triggered simply by tapping the mobile app's submit button, replacing the cumbersome email-based process used prior. Photos are stored within the app's internal database, not the phone's camera roll. Photos also are removed from the mobile device after the upload process is complete.

When the information is received by the back-end photo repository, GeoTAP then leverages the chosen photo categories to send email-based notifications to designated SRP employees. These employees are the recipients of the field-captured photos and can access them through GeoTAP Web. Recipients can view and edit the captured photos and associated data. The photos and data can be exported for an event; the export includes a folder that contains the event photos plus a formatted PDF that shows all photos and metadata. The exported data then can be imported as needed into other SRP applications, such as Maximo.

GeoTAP has been integrated with SRP's Storm Center application, used by the line maintenance group for work prioritization and crew assignment. Events show up as pins on the Storm Center app's interactive map, giving users direct access to captured information from their departmental application.

Best Use of Time

Prior to GeoTAP, SRP field employees used the built-in capabilities of their smartphones to capture photos but had to follow a multistep process to upload, store and send them to other SRP departments. Photos were sent by email. Field employees had to log in separately to the utility's email application, compose a message and attach photos. However, they were limited to sending four or five photos per message. If photos needed to be stored permanently, field employees had to follow another process to upload the photos from their smartphones to a computer, rename them for searchability and transfer the files to a common network location.

Overview of the Storm Center application

SRP Line Maintenance employees can access GeoTAP captured photos directly from the Storm Center application. Storm Center is used for work prioritization and assignment.

GeoTAP captured photo accessed by Storm Center users

GeoTAP captured photo, accessed by Storm Center users who "tap" on any of the map pins shown in the previous image.

These time-consuming multistep processes were a hindrance to field crews. Instead of being focused solely on working safely and restoring power to customers, field employees spent a lot of time navigating through various mobile apps and data-upload processes. The information captured with each photo was limited to the photo itself. Field employees had no way to categorize the photos or capture relevant comments. This limited SRP's ability to use the photos as an information asset, because the data could be grouped or searched only by file name.

Additionally, many photos contained sensitive information, such as traffic accident reports that included private information like license plates, driver license photos, personal injury and avian incidents. Before GeoTAP, these sensitive photos were stored in an unsecured state on employee smartphones, with the risk of being shared inadvertently with unauthorized individuals or even being posted on social media.

Captured photo showing power theft

Captured photo showing power theft, using jumper cables.

Behind the Technology

GeoTAP Mobile was developed by SRP's enterprise spatial and mobility services (ES&MS) team using the Xamarin mobile applications framework. The app runs on iOS and Android mobile devices, and it can be used on any company-issued or personal mobile device registered with Airwatch, SRP's mobile device management system. The app automatically is installed on registered mobile devices using the Airwatch app catalog.

GeoTAP photos showing a burned secondary splice case

GeoTAP photos showing a burned secondary splice case.

GeoTAP Mobile is secured by Microsoft Azure Active Directory (AD). Users log in to the mobile app using their corporate Windows login and password. The integration with AD means access to GeoTAP is revoked immediately when employees leave SRP for any reason or if they accept a job in another SRP department. The app also is uninstalled automatically by Airwatch if the user's phone is out of compliance with SRP policies, such as the operating system being outdated.

GeoTAP Mobile uses its own local data storage and functions as a disconnected app, remaining operable even when the user has no cellular connectivity. The app's data-upload process runs in the background, so users can continue using the app or any other apps when data uploads occur.

The web application is JavaScript based. Access to events and photos is controlled through Windows AD groups; access to each photo category depends on the user's membership in the associated AD group. The web application includes an interactive geographic information system (GIS) map that enables users to search for and retrieve photos through a map-based interface. Each photo is stored at both its original resolution and as a lower-resolution thumbnail used to reduce the payload size when viewing photos. The original high-resolution photo can be downloaded at any time.

More Use Cases

GeoTAP originally was implemented for SRP's troubleshooting, line maintenance, damage claim and legal departments in 2018. Since then, its use has expanded to the revenue protection, environmental and groundwater management teams. More than 200 users have logged 5000-plus events since the software was deployed.

The SRP revenue protection team uses GeoTAP to log power-theft incidents. The environmental team is the recipient of events that log avian incidents. Specifically, the event locations are helpful because wildlife agencies often are dispatched to an incident's location while SRP crews are sent to bird-guard nearby poles and towers. Prior to using GeoTAP, these groups often struggled to find an incident's location.

Photos showing raptor nests on SRP poles

Photos showing raptor nests on SRP poles. The captured photo location helps SRP crews find the location of each nest, so that avian protection equipment can be installed.

Captured photo showing vehicle accident affecting an SRP pole and junction box

Captured photo shows vehicle accident that impacted an SRP pole and junction box.

GeoTAP now is used at SRP for the following purposes:

  • Power outages and service restoration
  • Damage claim incidents
  • Avian incidents
  • GIS map and data errors
  • Power-theft incidents
  • Public relations and media releases
  • Maintenance issues, such as found field.

Requested enhancements include the ability to relate events to Maximo work orders and assets as well as the ability to attach photos directly to the related Maximo work orders.


The author would like to acknowledge all the groups and individuals at SRP who contributed to the implementation of GeoTAP. Special mention goes to Principal Analyst Doug Bozzo and Team Lead Kenon Ronz for development of the GeoTAP Mobile app, the ES&MS team for development of GeoTAP Web, Manager SRP Troubleshooting Jeff Gaumann for providing user requirements and ongoing feedback, and Business Analysts Sheila Young and Courtney Jones for project management and user training.

Sidebar: Summarized Benefits

The GeoTAP web and mobile applications provide a variety of benefits to Salt River Project (SRP):

  • Time savings for SRP field employees — The manual processes previously used to send, upload, rename and store photos were eliminated.
  • Location and crew navigation — Event and photo locations make it easier for field crews to navigate to the desired location for power restoration, vegetation management and environmental activities.
  • More pictures — It is easier for field crews to capture and send an unlimited number of photos for each event. This has resulted in more and better information being sent to recipients, enhancing their ability to do what they do.
  • Real-time information for office employees — Information and photos are received in near real time by office employees who may be communicating directly with SRP customers, helping those employees provide accurate, up-to-date information.
  • Reduced safety risk — Processes associated with capturing, sending and storing photos have been streamlined and simplified. This has reduced the level of distraction for field crews.
  • Expedited service restoration — Captured photos help field crews to arrive on-site with the necessary equipment and materials needed to do their work, averting an extended wait for delivery of these items.
  • Enhanced data-search capabilities — The captured data now includes relevant metadata, such as comments, location and categories, which improves the usefulness and searchability of the data.
  • Improved information security — Photos and data are not accessible outside the app and the information is purged from the mobile device after upload.
  • Improved information management — The app provides a common, cross-department repository for managing photos and associated metadata. This has replaced several disparate, unmanaged network directories used previously to store this information. This common repository improves SRP's ability to enforce data-retention policy and respond to external information requests.

For more information:

AirWatch |

Microsoft |


Investors start cleaning up with disaster-recovery boom - CNBC

Posted: 26 Sep 2017 12:00 AM PDT

Hurricane Irma seriously damaged 65 percent of all homes in the Florida Keys, said FEMA. Pictured, Marathon Key.

The year hurricanes Katrina and Wilma devastated Florida and Louisiana, Bill Begal's property restoration and cleanup business took in more than $10 million in revenue. An average year, by comparison, could bring in up to $4 million — not bad for a company bootstrapped inside a family dry-cleaning store more than 20 years ago.

"Flooding is a big business," said Begal, owner of Begal Enterprises. So big that Begal accepted an acquisition offer for the Rockville, Maryland-based firm, which mitigates water, wind and fire damage, for a "fair" price earlier this year to a larger competitor.

The deal came a bit too soon to capitalize on restoration and rebuilding funds available after hurricanes Harvey, Irma and, now, Maria.

"Billions of dollars of insurance money and investment money will be flowing into the affected areas to clean up and rebuild," said Joseph Roseman, managing partner of financial advisory firm O'Dell, Winkfield, Roseman and Shipp.

"If you have the proper expertise and work ethic, this could be an opportunity to change your career trajectory in areas that are going to need help for many years to come."

Water damage, such as the kind caused by hurricanes, is a cash cow and a growing industry, with gross profit margins at 60 percent to 70 percent, according to Craig Kersemeier, vice chair of the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification and owner of second-generation restoration business K-tech Kleening in Weston, Wisconsin.

While Begal Enterprises maintained low overhead in its first few years in business, Begal netted about 40 percent to 50 percent profit. It's no surprise, then, that in a survey this year by Restoration and Remediation magazine, nearly half of restoration contractors said water-damage restoration was their primary business.

And while the bulk of work handled by most property restoration companies involves mitigating local incidents, such as burst pipes or fire damage, about a third of all such firms travel outside their service areas for large-scale disaster-recovery jobs, according to a survey this year by industry magazine Cleanfax.

More from Active/Passive:
Indexing still on top, but active management plays role
Why traditional investment strategies don't work
I am a lazy, cheap investor. Here's why.

About 74 percent of restoration companies experienced sales growth in 2016, with 28 percent citing weather as a primary growth factor, according to the Cleanfax survey. More than one third of survey respondents expect to grow more than 10 percent in 2017. Companies that focus on the commercial sector may have a leg up on profits, since they benefit from business-interruption coverage on commercial insurance policies that allow customers to proceed with work immediately to get their doors open again, said Kersemeier at the IICRC and K-tech Kleening.

Investors may find the sector highly profitable but hard to break into unless they are franchisees, mostly because there are few publicly traded options.

ServiceMaster, a Fortune 1000 company that also owns Terminix, Merry Maids and American Home Shield, was trading at $46.81 on September 18, up from $40.41 a month ago and $37.68 at the start of the year. It has nearly doubled from three years ago, when it was trading at just under $24 a share. ServiceMaster locations are owned by franchisees.

Some of the biggest players are large private firms that are gobbling up smaller ones to create large national and worldwide networks better equipped to work with insurance companies' third-party administrators. Known as TPAs, they prefer to work with designated contractors who know their adjustment and claims processes, Kersemeier said.

Weekly advice on managing your money

Get this delivered to your inbox, and more info about about our products and services.
By signing up for newsletters, you are agreeing to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

A few include Belfor, a privately held worldwide company with $1 billion in annual revenue, and Paul Davis Restoration, which has 370 independently owned and operated franchisees around North America. DKI is a disaster-recovery contracting company that calls on a network of smaller companies to mobilize when there's a big event.

But creative investors could potentially cash in on the property restoration and disaster-recovery sector's growth and profitability by looking at its supporting industries, said Roseman at OWRS.

"Granite [Construction] [GVA] and Fluor [FLR] are primary service providers to the U.S. government and had a big hand in the cleanup after Hurricane Sandy, " he said. "Many midsize and small contractors will also benefit from contracts with these companies, and with FEMA directly."

Investors shouldn't discount transportation companies, such as Swift Transportation [SWFT], a trucking company that could be benefiting from the flow of goods to disaster areas, Roseman added.

Sometimes we create our own problem. Everything will break. It's just a matter of when. It will create some opportunity for somebody.

Craig Kersemeier

vice chair of the IICRC and owner of K-Tech Kleening

Restoration equipment manufacturers, such as Phoenix Restoration Equipment and Dri-Eaz, dominate as much as 80 percent of the market, according to Kersemeier at the IICRC and K-tech Kleening.

Start-up EIR Healthcare fabricates modular temporary hospitals offsite and plans to market them for use in natural-disaster areas (similar modular structures were mobilized during Sandy, which struck the U.S. East Coast in 2012). It recently completed a $500,000 seed round and is talking with institutional investors for a series A funding round expected to close for $25 million. Selling for $250,000 per unit, the profit margin is described by EIR Healthcare CEO Grant Geiger as "high."

Neither the Restoration Industry Association nor the IICRC keep statistics on how many restoration and disaster-recovery businesses are out there, or how they are performing. But professionals watching the business don't believe it's getting any smaller or less profitable, despite growing competition and changing insurance claims standards.

"The business ... is not ever going away," said Kersemeier from his temporary work home in Florida. "In the United States, we've built on all the good land.

"Sometimes we create our own problem," he added. "Everything will break. It's just a matter of when. It will create some opportunity for somebody."

— By Kayleigh Kulp, special to

Fond farewells offered as Rice says goodbye to MPD - Ledger Independent

Posted: 24 Aug 2019 12:01 PM PDT

MPD Chief Ron Rice and his wife, Norlene, said coodbye to MPD at a reception Friday at the Maysville Rotary Clubhouse. -

Tears and laughter punctuated the day as the city of Maysville invited the community to celebrate the retirement of Police Chief Ron Rice Friday.

Rice said he had long looked forward to the day he would take off his gunbelt for the final time but admitted it was a bittersweet moment as he offered two simple words for his opportunity to serve the community — "thank you."

"It wasn't a job, it was a daily adventure," he said, speaking to those on hand for the event. "Police work is one of the best jobs God ever created."

"It's a great opportunity to recognize a great person," Assistant Chief Jared Muse said. "He's the most professional person I've ever worked with."

Had he chosen to do so, Rice could have been chief of police in a city like Lexington or Louisville, or even headed up Kentucky State Police, Muse said. Instead, he stayed in Maysville.

"I don't know if Maysville realizes the calibre of person they had," Muse said. "You can't get any better than him."

Shanda Hamilton, the executive director of CASA, called it "an honor and privilege" to have worked with Rice, who she said "served the community while demonstrating his faith in all that he does."

Rice, a native of Mason County, said he and his wife, Norlene and his children came back to Maysville when he retired from the Air Force. Norlene Rice said the couple decided they would give it five years to see how things worked out. Five years turned into eight years and finally 20.

Rice served as chief of the MPD for the past nine years and was on the department for 23 years. He said the people of Maysville made his job better.

"It's easy to be good to good people and Maysville is full of good people," he said.

The couple said now that they are retired they will travel and spend time with their grandchildren.

Rice also hopes he can get the jump on his neighbors in lawn work.

"Maybe I can be one of the first to get my yard work done," he joked.

Rice said he plans to stay active in the community by continuing to serve on several boards and committees including the Hayswood Foundation and Meadowview Regional Medical Center and he has been asked to complete his term as chairman of the board for the Kentucky Agency for Substance Abuse Policy.

Maysville City Manager Matt Wallingford called Rice "a wonderful person, a great chief and a great mentor to me," as he began a parade of co-workers and friends who offered their goodbyes and good wishes to Rice.

"He set an example for myself and the rest of our officers to follow," MPD Communications Director Mike Palmer said.

Rice was presented several gifts, including his service weapon, bought back from the city and gifted to him by his fellow officers.

Maysville's next police chief will not have an easy task, following in Rice's footsteps, Muse said.

"It will be a big job to do because Ron Rice has done everything right," he said.

MPD Chief Ron Rice and his wife, Norlene, said coodbye to MPD at a reception Friday at the Maysville Rotary Clubhouse.

Cleaning Services Market by Top Players – Abm Industries Inc., The... - Innovative Reports

Cleaning Services Market by Top Players – Abm Industries Inc., The...  Innovative Reports

A wide array of services including window washing, floor cleaning, vacuuming, furniture cleaning, carpet cleaning, air duct cleaning, water damage restoration, ...

Cleaning Services Market by Top Players – Abm Industries Inc., The... - Innovative Reports

Cleaning Services Market by Top Players – Abm Industries Inc., The...  Innovative Reports

A wide array of services including window washing, floor cleaning, vacuuming, furniture cleaning, carpet cleaning, air duct cleaning, water damage restoration, ...