Groundbreaking with Jordan Keeney in Episode 9

In the recent episode of "GroundBreakers: Transforming Geotech," we highlight Jordan Keeney, a dedicated advocate for dam safety and a new entrepreneur in the field. After a lengthy tenure at consulting giant Stantec, Jordan has embarked on a mission to enhance dam safety through his own company. His goal is to leverage modern technology to improve the safety and longevity of dams, which are vital infrastructures for many communities worldwide.

Jordan's journey began with seven years at Stantec, where he gained invaluable experience and insights from leading civil engineers. Driven by a desire to apply technology more dynamically, he decided to start his own venture. This step is rooted in his belief that current technological advancements can significantly improve dam safety, offering solutions that were previously unattainable.

The statistics on dam safety in the United States highlight a pressing need for enhanced monitoring and maintenance. Of nearly 90,000 dams, about 67% are classified as high hazard or not in optimal safety condition. This reality underscores the importance of implementing advanced monitoring technologies to ensure the safety of these structures. The challenge is immense, given the diverse and complex nature of dams across the country.

Dams, considered long-term assets, require constant attention and upkeep. Most U.S. dams were constructed in the 1960s and 70s, and as they age, advanced monitoring becomes increasingly critical. Jordan emphasizes that today's technology, including sensors, automated data visualization systems, and remote monitoring capabilities, offers unprecedented opportunities to maintain and enhance dam safety.

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One significant technological advancement in dam safety is the use of sensors and telemetry kits for real-time monitoring of dam conditions. This technology allows continuous data collection, providing a comprehensive view of a dam's health and identifying potential issues before they become critical. The integration of these technologies supplements human efforts and enhances overall safety protocols.

Jordan shares a recent project in California that showcases modern technology's effectiveness in dam safety. This project involved monitoring remote sites in the eastern Sierras, an area characterized by challenging weather and difficult access. By deploying sensors and automated systems, Jordan's team could monitor these sites remotely, providing crucial data and effectively mitigating potential risks. This case study highlights the importance of continuous monitoring and rapid response in ensuring dam safety.

Emerging technologies such as distributed acoustic sensing (DAS) and Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR) are set to transform dam safety. DAS uses fiber optic cables to measure sound and seismic activity over long distances, offering continuous monitoring capabilities up to 30 miles from a single point. This technology can detect issues that traditional sensors might miss, providing a more comprehensive safety net for dams.

InSAR, on the other hand, uses satellite technology to monitor ground deformation on a global scale. This capability is particularly valuable for identifying subtle changes in dam structures that could indicate potential problems. Combining DAS and InSAR with traditional monitoring methods creates a robust framework for ensuring the safety and integrity of dams.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are also making significant contributions to dam safety. These technologies can analyze vast amounts of data, flagging potential issues that might escape human detection. For instance, AI can process data from drones, sensors, and other monitoring equipment to identify patterns and anomalies, allowing engineers to address problems more quickly and effectively.

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Jordan underscores the importance of integrating AI into dam safety protocols. AI's ability to process and analyze large datasets means that engineers can gain insights that were previously unattainable. This technology can help prioritize areas needing attention, optimize maintenance schedules, and predict potential failures before they occur, significantly enhancing overall dam safety.

One of the key benefits of modern technology in dam safety is the democratization of data. By making monitoring data accessible to all stakeholders, from dam keepers to engineers, decision-making becomes more informed and effective. This transparency ensures that everyone involved has a clear understanding of a dam's condition and can respond promptly to any issues.

Jordan also highlights the role of drones in dam safety. Equipped with thermal imaging and laser scanners, drones can provide detailed assessments of dam structures, identifying cracks, deformations, and other issues that might not be visible to the naked eye. These aerial surveys are faster and more accurate, offering a valuable tool for ongoing maintenance and safety checks.

The future of dam safety lies in the seamless integration of various technologies. Combining data from traditional sensors, fiber optics, drones, and satellites into a single platform can provide a comprehensive view of a dam's health. This holistic approach ensures that no potential issue goes unnoticed and allows for more proactive maintenance strategies.

Read more: Instrumentation & Structural Monitoring of Dams

For young engineers and those considering a career in civil engineering, Jordan offers an inspiring perspective. He encourages them to see the potential impact they can have on society by pursuing dam safety and leveraging modern technology. Civil engineering is not just about calculations and design; it's about applying innovative solutions to real-world problems and making a tangible difference in people's lives.

Jordan's journey from consulting to entrepreneurship demonstrates the power of passion and innovation in transforming industries. His commitment to dam safety and his belief in the potential of technology to improve infrastructure highlight the importance of continuous learning and adaptation in civil engineering. By embracing new technologies and approaches, engineers can enhance the safety and reliability of critical infrastructure, ensuring a safer future for all.

In conclusion, the integration of advanced technology into dam safety is not just a possibility but a necessity. From real-time monitoring and AI-driven analysis to drone surveys and satellite monitoring, these innovations are transforming how we maintain and protect our dams. Jordan Keeney's work and vision provide a roadmap for the future, emphasizing the need for continuous innovation and the critical role of engineers in safeguarding our infrastructure. As we look to the future, the collaboration between technology and civil engineering will be crucial in ensuring the safety and sustainability of our dams and other essential structures. 

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