UXO Quality Control
Establishing standards in data Quality Control
and Quality Assurance for UXO detection
When in doubt, you dig. That's the rule in the investigation of unexploded
ordnance (UXO). UXO pose a real threat to both human life and the
environment. Millions of UXO may be located in the U.S. on active test
and training ranges and Formerly Used Defense Sites (FUDS). During an
investigation of UXO-contaminated sites, when the data gives you reason
to think something is there - you act on it.
Experience has shown, however, that too often the digging does not result in the
discovery of a UXO; and the time, effort and cost involved is wasted. Many of
the causes for false alarms, and other inefficiencies in UXO project cycles, can
be traced back to data quality issues.
Essentially, all investigations of UXO involve the use of Digital Geophysical
Mapping (DGM), and they are highly dependent on quality field data. Assuring
the quality of the data holds unique challenges for Government agencies
mandated with performing quality assurance of investigation results. First, the
geophysical mapping is almost always performed
by individual contractors or teams of contractors,
each with their own proprietary methodology
and tools. To date there has been no common
hardware platform, software platform, or standard
methodology for doing the work, and delivering
the data to customers. Second, it doesn't take
much to skew the data, and lose data integrity.
Simple things like instrument noise, steel toed
boots, jangling keys in the operator's pocket and
flopping cables can all result in inconsistent data,
and contribute to faulty decision-making.
The connection between repetitive data quality
issues with resurveying and lost productivity has
led to an intensified focus on improving data
Quality Control (QC) and Quality Assurance (QA).
To combat the problem, the US Army Corps of Engineers in Huntsville and
industry software developer Geosoft joined forces, with the sponsorship of the
Environmental Security Technology Certification Program (ESTCP), to target
improvements in the quality assurance and quality control of field data in
collaboration with the UXO community.
The cooperative partnership resulted in the initiation of a UXO QC/QA project,
funded under ESTCP. The project's first product, a standardized tool set for the
QC/QA of collected field data was publicly released in 2002 and an enhanced
tool set was subsequently released in 2003. The QC/QA tool sets are available
under the industry standard Oasis montajT interface. The principal goals of the project were to standardize Quality Control and
Quality Assurance (QC/QA) processes within the UXO community, to improve
data quality and detection methods, and to establish a standard software platform
for the sharing of SERDP/ESTCP analysis algorithms.
The Data Quality Problem
Over several years, the Huntsville Center had recorded a high number of repetitive
problems and false alarms. "We had highly variable data quality, day to day,
week to week and month to month," said Scott Millhouse, US Army Corps of
Engineers, Huntsville Center. "Sometimes at the end of a project, we would find no
relationship between initial performance with the A team, and final performance
with the C or D team."
The money spent on false alarms and rework can add up. "Every time we dig
it costs us around $200 dollars a hole, whether we find something or not,"
It's not just about cost, however, it's about ensuring the
consistent quality of the data. "We don't want to map a
thousand acres, then analyze the data and find out that
there's been a problem all along - a repetitive problem,"
said Millhouse. Issues like faulty equipment, if undetected,
can undermine the success of an entire project.
Productivity and use of resources is another key concern.
The Huntsville group found that a significant amount of
time and resources was spent working with contractors to
ensure acceptable levels of data quality. "Our geophysicist
and his team would spend weeks at a time on the initial start up of a project,
getting problems worked out," explains Millhouse. "And they were seeing the
same problems over and over and over again - with different contractors.
We just didn't have the manpower to put that kind of effort into every project."
The QC/QA Solution
Responding to this problem, the Huntsville Center had been working collaboratively
with contractors and others to come up with tests to validate and maintain the
performance of equipment, and procedures for the analysis of data. The Center's
early efforts helped to define the issues, and to generate a pool of
ideas, techniques and expertise in QC/QA problem solving.
Very quickly however, it was recognized that industry
tools and a standard platform were required to deliver
significant and sustainable improvements in data
"Everyone was aware of the problem," said Millhouse.
"The issue became how do we solve it? The answer was
to establish the standard tests, and also the software tools
to enable contractors to be more effective in meeting data
The decision to partner with Geosoft was made based on the need to build a
mature and comprehensive technological solution that could be made readily
available to the UXO community on a standard software platform.
"Our goal was to migrate the QC/QA
tools to a commercial platform that would
ensure easy access by contractors, and
Geosoft's Oasis Montaj interface was already
established as an open industry-standard
platform," said Millhouse. "Geosoft's
commercial UXO product was also used by
many of our geophysical contractors."
A cooperative agreement was struck
for Geosoft to code the complete
QC/QA tool set into their current
UX-Detect product, and also to
make the basic tools freely available
as part of their industry standard
Oasis Montaj interface. The
agreement, funded under ESTCP,
provides the tools for all contractors
to reach a certain quality level,
without requiring an additional
The Huntsville group is already starting to see improvements in data quality and
consistency. "We're seeing greater consistency and day-to-day data matching,
improved repeatability, and increased production," says Millhouse.
Wide spread use of the new QC/QA tool set has improved field data by identifying
and correcting instrument and acquisition errors prior to demobilization.
The software includes tests to verify that geophysical equipment is working properly
and that contractors are meeting performance requirements throughout the project
cycle. The tools have also enabled UXO investigations to be more efficient and cost
effective, with less reworking of mapped areas.
In addition, the project is establishing a standard platform for sharing analysis
algorithms developed by other groups who have been funded under SERDP or
ESTCP. One of ESTCP's goals for the UXO program is to provide tools for the
field that everybody can use to add value and quality. In order to enable the
establishment of a common platform for learning, developing and distributing
discrimination and analysis techniques, emerging successes from the ESTCP and
SERDP programs will be written as a Geosoft executable (GX) that can be run
under the Oasis montaj interface.
Millhouse attributes the project's successful deployment to the commitment of
the people involved and the processes established, as well as the fact that the
technological tools are readily available as part of Oasis montaj, the standard
platform used by most of the UXO geophysical contractors.
"There were no tools available to support QC/QA in the industry. The fact that
these basic tools are now available and are free to Government contractors has
made the difference," says Millhouse. "As a result, we're starting to see wide spread
usage." To promote usage, the Huntsville Center has included a requirement to
perform the tests, and to deliver the data in a specific format in their scope of
work, Data Item Descriptions (DIDs).
Another key success factor was the Peer Review Process established to support
testing of the software in the field. The software underwent an extensive peer review
process, prior to release. A select group of peer reviewers, comprised of contractors
working for the Huntsville Center, received the software, together with a class on
how to use it. Participating contractors were encouraged to begin implementing it
on live projects, enabling real-time input on how the software worked in the field.
Contractors who previously had to develop their own tools and techniques were
able to apply their ideas towards improving the standard toolset. The input
received through the review process contributed to software enhancements which
are reflected in the current release. Suggestions for additional capabilities are being
considered for incorporation into future releases.
According to Millhouse, the cooperative partnership has proven to be a good
model for problem solving in the UXO community, and it has delivered benefits
to all parties. Geosoft has gained a better understanding of how its technology
is being used in the UXO field, and some insight into the priority of customer's
problems. "We have found Geosoft to be very flexible and supportive in
responding to our needs," says Millhouse. The Huntsville Center has benefited
from efficiency and productivity gains throughout its project cycles; and ESTCP
has delivered on its mandate of providing validated tools to improve data
quality in UXO investigations.
In summary, investment in the creation of industry QC/QA software standards
and common methodology is seen as bringing both short term, and long term
benefits. Improvements in data consistency have had an immediate impact on
UXO project efficiency and productivity. Equally important, having established
a standard platform, future developments and improvements can build on an
existing foundation, maximizing the value and return on the investment,
eliminating the need for extensive training, and facilitating the sharing of new
tools and technology within the UXO community.