004: Growing and Leading a Service Line, Learning about Structural & Geotechnical Monitoring Services with ECS Senior Project Engineer Kelly Clawson

Did you know ECS launched a podcast? Coffee Talk: From the Ground Up is meant to be educational, entertaining and encouraging with practical advice you can apply directly in your work and life.  Listen and subscribe now on AnchorSpotifyGoogle Podcasts, and Apple Podcasts.



Steve Gosselin:

Welcome to Coffee Talk: From the Ground Up an ECS podcast, where we strive to provide a more personable way to communicate with employees. I’m Steve Gosselin, but you can call me Goose. And I’m part of our senior leadership team. And I’m joined here by Julie Smith, who is part of the marketing communications team and our resident chocoholic. Say hi, Julie.

Julie Smith:

Thanks Steve. Hey everyone. I’m glad you’re joining us today. So Steve, what are we doing here?

Steve Gosselin:

Great question, Julie. One of the struggles with a company our size is getting a message to the masses, without it being diluted along the way. From projects and people to services and career insight. We hope this podcast helps provide an avenue to communicate the stories that are worth sharing. It’s to learn about our culture and feel more connected and to have some fun along the way.

Julie Smith:

So what you’re saying is we hope this podcast is educational, entertaining and encouraging with practical advice you can apply directly to your work and life.

Steve Gosselin:

Well said Julie and that’s why you’re in marketing.

Julie Smith:

So grab a cup and settle in.

Our attorney makes us say this, this podcast is for entertainment and informational purposes only. Nothing here in shall be construed as providing professional engineering services or used to establish the standard of care. This podcast and the comments contained there in represent only the personal views of the participants and do not reflect those of ECS. While we make every effort to ensure that the information we are sharing is accurate, we welcome any comment, suggestions or correction of errors.


Steve Gosselin:                

Welcome to Coffee Talk. Today we’re going to be talking with Kelly Clawson and talking about growing and leading a new service line. Before we get started, as we always do, we’ll start with a safety minute and Kelly has something that’s very appropriate she’d like to share with us. So I’ll turn it over to you.

Kelly Clawson:                 

Thanks, Steve. I thought to share a recent experience that I had with my kids that I thought would be good to share just to help bring awareness and a cautionary tale for parents out there. Unfortunately, we had an incident just a few weeks ago where my kids had been in a habit of walking to school from our house, we’re less than a mile from their elementary school, and they were approached by a gray van. They were just walking down the road and before they got to the main road, they noticed this a gray van on the side of the road that started roll backwards and approach them. And the driver of the van, she rolled down her window and she offered them a ride and tried to encourage them to get in her vehicle. And thankfully my kids had been well versed in the practice of what to say in a situation like that and what to do.

And they certainly, they didn’t approach the vehicle. They shouted back to a friend to warn their friend that, hey, this lady, watch out, she might kidnap you. So they were very loud and vocal and thankfully they were not abducted that day, but thankfully they knew what to do. And the woman quickly sped away once she realized that my kids knew what the right things were to do in a situation like that. I just thought to share that story. I certainly didn’t think it would be something that would likely happen in my neighborhood, but it was just a good reminder that bad things can happen anywhere, anytime. So it’s to remind your kids about what to do in hard situations like that so they’re prepared. And hopefully you have this conversation with your kids before the Halloween here, as they venture around their neighborhoods again.

Steve Gosselin:

Wow. Well, thanks for sharing that with us. And it’s a reminder, not only as parents taking care of kids, but ourselves, and in my case, taking care of an elderly parent, to be ever vigilant. People are preying on us all the time, trying to take advantage of us. You never really realize when you’re the most vulnerable and a lot of times folks take advantage of that. So that’s a great safety minute. Thank you very much.

Today we’re going to be talking with Kelly Clawson. Kelly’s a Senior Project Engineer in our Chantilly office. She joined ECS in 2017 and when she’s not in the office, this Clarkson University alum can be found spending time with her family and enjoying the outdoors, walking, hiking, and camping. That’s great. So welcome.

Kelly Clawson:                   Thanks, Steve.

Steve Gosselin:                 Yeah, you bet. We’re going to start out as is our way and ask some rapid fire questions of Kelly. So what’s your favorite food?

Kelly Clawson:                   Oh, I absolutely love Indian and Thai food. I just love all the smells with those spices and the variety in the foods. That’s my all-time favorite, for sure.

Steve Gosselin:                 Oh, awesome. Yeah, no doubt. Favorite sport or hobby?

Kelly Clawson:                   I’d say for me, it’s hiking. Again, I like to spend time outdoors, enjoying nature.

Steve Gosselin:                 All right. So just tell us a little bit, you have like a favorite place, is it anywhere or is there some place you really try to go on a regular basis?

Kelly Clawson:                   Yeah. Well, I’m up in Maryland, so we live really close to Patapsco State Park and there’s loads of trails right here, nearby. Probably out there at least a couple of times a week.

Steve Gosselin:                 Have you ever used the app All Trails?

Kelly Clawson:                   Yes. Yep. That’s a very handy app, for sure.

Steve Gosselin:                 Yeah. I figured I’d take it a shot. My wife and I, we’re both geologists and we love hiking. And especially in North Carolina, there’s a lot of places to go. And I’d say about 18 months ago, right at the beginning of COVID we found the All Trails app and we’ve used it many times. It’s a great app and it opens you up to a lot of trails that you would have no idea were there.

Kelly Clawson:                   Absolutely. It gives you the opportunity to plan ahead and explore a little bit more.

Steve Gosselin:                 All right. Well, cool. Yeah. What job would you be terrible at?

Kelly Clawson:                   A terrible job for me, I think would be dancing. I could not be a performer of any kind, but dancing especially, I’m just not coordinated. I think I would be a hazard to everybody out on the stage.

Steve Gosselin:                 Okay. I love it. Okay. And what are you addicted to?

Kelly Clawson:                   That would absolutely hands down, be chocolate. Yeah.

Steve Gosselin:                 Wait a minute. Now, did you and Julie plan that one?

Julie Smith:                         No. No. Okay. Kelly, I’m also addicted to chocolate. So what kind of chocolate, milk, dark, white chocolate?

Kelly Clawson:                   I’ll put it right out there. Julie, I’m not a chocolate snob. If it’s chocolate, it should not be in my presence. It will be gone. I’m just that bad.

Julie Smith:                         Yeah. Yeah.

Steve Gosselin:                 All right. I’ll give you all time after the podcast today to spend time and share your chocolate stories. What is something most people don’t know about you?

Kelly Clawson:                   I’d say my 1979 Volkswagen Bus, we purchased that back in 2016 and I just love old vehicles. And this one, my husband calls it my midlife crisis. I happened to have been looking at some auto trade websites and I found a Bus up for auction and it’s one that’s actually painted and fitted out to look like the Mystery Machine from Scooby-Doo. So it’s kind of a quirky thing to have in the neighborhood, for sure. But it makes a lot of people smile and we have a good time going out on it.

Steve Gosselin:                 No way. So, were you a big Scooby-Doo fan growing up?

Kelly Clawson:                   Absolutely. I remember every day in elementary school coming home and turning on Scooby-Doo right after school.

Steve Gosselin:                 That’s awesome. Well, you know what, maybe that formed a foundation for your career, because I know a lot of what you do is investigative work. So we’re going to jump right in. Tell us your ECS story. Tell us a little bit about your career, your background, how you got here, what it is you do. Go for it.

Kelly Clawson:                   Sure. I went to school at Clarkson University and studied civil engineering, concentrated environmental, and then pursued studies in geotechnical engineering. Did a lot of the lab work, a lot of testing back then with different equipment and automated systems. So I’d say a lot of my early experiences with monitoring actually tied back into work I did in the laboratory back then. I came out of school and I worked for a water wastewater design firm and did a lot of work with dams and landfills, which require heavy instrumentation and so I had early experiences in the field with data collection and data interpretation. And then I think I became a little bit more heavily focused with monitoring as I got involved with tunnel monitoring for WMATA back in 2007. So I got to explore movement monitoring and different methods for performing that work.

                                                And I came to ECS in 2017, largely ECS was interested in my experiences with automated monitoring and we had a lot of similar clients and similar experiences working with monitoring largely for urban settings and with the WMATA tunnel work. When I came on board with them, I was really charged to share my experiences and try to help grow our services with respect to automated movement monitoring. I think at that time, a lot of ECS’s work was primarily focused in on manual measurements by traditional survey methods and we just jumped right in and started to use more tools and tried to help expand the skill sets for the group so that we’d be more well versed and comfortable doing automated work.

Steve Gosselin:                 Tell us a little bit about some of the tools that you use in the monitoring services you provide.

Kelly Clawson:                   Sure. Bulk of our work is movement monitoring where we’re taking positional measurements for targets that are installed on adjacent structures or adjacent infrastructure and we’re using survey equipment to take baseline readings for the position of those features that we’re monitoring and then we’re taking additional readings, either by manual or automated methods using robots to monitor for changes or movements of the targets that we’ve installed. We also utilize some other tools. We do quite a bit of vibration monitoring work and inclinometer monitoring work on the same types of projects. In the last two or three years we’ve been focusing a little bit more on growing our expertise related to 3D scanning to help supplement what we can document and report with respect to existing conditions on structures.

Steve Gosselin:                 Okay. All right. Well that tells me a lot. Tell me about LIDAR. Do you use LIDAR and in what capacity?

Kelly Clawson:                   When people think of LIDAR that I think they’re generally thinking of terrestrial scanning. In ECS we use our 3D scanning equipment mainly for documenting conditions on existing buildings or hardscape features adjacent to existing buildings. We utilize a few different types of instruments. We have a small, like a BLK 360 scanner that fits in your palm, that is really good for an interior surveys of buildings, helpful when you’re trying to put together quick floor plans for a space that might be leased or something that the owner is prepping packages to get interested tenants into that space.

                                                We also have a larger scanner, a P20 scanner that we use for exterior surveys. It’s a little better scanner, allows us to capture more points over longer distances so it’s really helpful when you have larger projects that you need to try to capture that information quickly. And then we generally use that in combination with some of our other instrumentation monitoring equipment as well. When we’re doing movement monitoring, there can be some projects where folks are interested in understanding what’s going on in between locations on the wall, like a retaining wall,  where we’ve documented some movements that we can actually scan and document the full condition of that particular feature.

Steve Gosselin:                 Okay, great. Where does the monitoring and use of LIDAR and the scanning that you’re doing, where does it fall in phases of our products and life cycle of buildings?

Kelly Clawson:                   I think most of our work, we’re introduced to the project while the design team and the owner are working on their permits for a new construction project. We may be getting involved with reviewing the design and putting together monitoring plans that may be required by the local jurisdictions. Sometimes it’s also helpful in their communication with adjacent property owners, they have neighboring agreements where perhaps they’re doing some tieback work or some underpinning work and they’re potentially needing to negotiate an agreement in order to facilitate approval for that work with the adjacent property owner, we’ll be assisting with preparing the monitoring plans associated with the adjacent structures.

                                                It can be as early as during the design and permitting stages of the project. The bulk of our work, ultimately I think, is performed during the construction phase though, where we’re actually installing the equipment and doing the active monitoring.

Steve Gosselin:                 Okay. All right. You’ve got to be collecting a lot of data. I mean, setting up the instrumentation, doing the monitoring and scanning you’re doing, how do you compile all this data and then how do you interpret it?

Kelly Clawson:                   Oh, that’s a great question. We have a number of different methods of how we compile the data. In large part we have some automated tools that allow us to bring the data in quickly into spreadsheets, just using basic macros that we’ve written to help import the data and report the relative differences to our baseline. We do a lot of charting to some time charts so that we can see if there are any trending movements that might be concerning for a particular feature that we’re monitoring. And then for the scanning component, we are actively exploring different tools, because that is a very heavy data driven service where the time that you spend in the field, you can nearly double in the office just reviewing the data that you’ve collected. Those tools are getting better and better as the years move on but we currently use a lot of software that’s actually produced by like an Autodesk to aid us and reviewing the data and overlaying the point clouds against point clouds from the precondition survey to get a sense of what changes have occurred.

Steve Gosselin:                 Wow. I can only imagine how complex it is and you’re making it sound like it’s no big deal, it’s really easy. That’s really pretty cool. I’m going to ask you to make a distinction here, we’re doing scanning and monitoring, we’re collecting data, but we’re not surveying. Give us an idea what might be the distinction there, because I know we’re not surveyors, we’re not licensed surveyors, but we are collecting a lot of information and data. Can you make that distinction for us?

Kelly Clawson:                   Yeah, absolutely. Our data is really meant to help give information about changes on a structure as it relates to the contractors work. Everything that we report, we end up reporting relative to some baselines that we’ve established on the project. A licensed surveyor may be required when you actually need some boundary surveys performed for a project site, you need to have a controls established for the contract. Anything that’s related to the basis of what the contractor might utilize for reference for his construction, we don’t get involved with that. We’re really just reporting on what changes that can be measured on the existing features to help advise the team if there are any potential movements or impacts occurring during their work.

Steve Gosselin:                 Oh yeah. Well said. Who are the clients who would benefit from this service? I mean, who would hire us?

Kelly Clawson:                   I’d say the bulk of our work is generally contracted directly by the owner. Sometimes the owner has us contract through their GC, but I’d say the bulk of the work is through the project owner. Sometimes architectural firms or structural engineering firms may reach out to us as well if they’re in the process of trying to build some design drawings and maybe they don’t have very good as built documentation for a building, then we might aid them by collecting some data that can be used as they put together those base drawings. But I’d say the bulk of our work is through the ownership.

Steve Gosselin:                 Are you and your team, are you pretty portable? Do you have to stay close to home or can you travel pretty much anywhere?

Kelly Clawson:                   Yeah, the service line does lend itself well to remote projects or supporting projects in other states. Currently bulk of our work is in our backyard and northern Virginia and DC, but we have been actively supporting other offices like Pittsburgh, Richmond, Georgia, and some offices down in Florida where their clients have this need. We’ve been more than happy to travel and either work with the local offices to train them on how to self-perform the work, or if that’s just something that they don’t have to bandwidth to do themselves, then we’ve been more than happy to perform the installations and manage the projects ourselves.

Steve Gosselin:                 Okay. So here’s a fun question related to that. Where do you want to go? An office called or you had to choose, say man, I would really like to go do a project there?

Kelly Clawson:                   I’m pretty open to, and I think a lot of my team members who would be willing to traveling anywhere across the US to support offices as they explore the service line. It’s really a fun service line to be in. It’s a natural extension of what we do every day for testing inspection and our other design services. We’d be open, I think, to helping any office that had a strong interest in doing this work.

Steve Gosselin:                 Good answer. How do our clients know when to hire us to do this? what might that look like? Just so our listeners know, so when they’re in a conversation with somebody and if a client, a contractor, architect, owner says something like a keyword or something, it’d be like, oh yeah, I need to call Kelly.

Kelly Clawson:                   I think if a particular team is knowledgeable about what their local jurisdiction needs are for monitoring for potential impact against adjacent infrastructure or buildings, certain jurisdictions are very clear that thou shalt monitor and have a firm like ECS performing these services for you independent of the contractor. If in the process of the design submissions and based on what review comments they may get from their local jurisdiction, it may manifest that way. Other times, I think owners might be working with structural engineers and architects to potentially renovate existing buildings and if they find that they just don’t have very good as-built information to work from as they’re putting together their design documents, I think that could be another indication that saying, okay, hey, this is a potential need for this particular team. And perhaps ECS, with our scanning capabilities, can be of assistance to them.

Steve Gosselin:                 All right, great. That’s very informed. That’s going to help a lot and I’ll just encourage anyone and just say call Kelly anytime. I mean, obviously she knows what she’s doing. She’s very intelligent. She’s easy to talk to. She’s very helpful. And there’s a huge potential in this service line. And I know that you’d be willing to help anybody who had a question about us or anything you could do.

Kelly Clawson:                   Absolutely.

Steve Gosselin:                 Yeah. Cool. Tell us about, how’d we get our first client, how’d we get our first job. Did somebody just jump out and take a risk or was it somebody had a relationship with, tell us about the first project we did?

Kelly Clawson:                   For ECS, this predates me a little bit, I think ECS has been doing this work for quite a while, for a decade, for sure. I think it was basically a natural extension of what we were doing with our construction field work. What I’ve learned about the automated side with ECS, where I had the experience of working with another company doing this work, the opportunity really came to us. And I think ECS has a similar story where there simply was a need in our metro area. Again, anytime we’re doing development next to existing WMATA Metro Station or tunnels, there’s always been a need to have a very heavy instrumentation program. And initially I know ECS and the firm I was working with, we did all that work manually and I think it became apparent to people that that can be very costly and challenging to implement when you’re working during off revenue hours. So we had the opportunity to explore using better tools with automation to limit our man hours on track so that we can get the work done without trying to work around WMATA’s train schedules.

                                                And that I know for me personally, that the opportunity came to me quite nicely from a contractor just saying, a big contractor in the DC market saying, “Hey, we don’t want to incur these delays and we don’t want to go about this the old way anymore. Nobody else out there is really interested in, or has the skill sets yet to do this with automation. Would you be interested in looking at it?” And they just said they simply were going to hire a firm that was going to utilize automation for their work.

                                                And I think ECS has a similar story talking with a manager from the Pittsburgh office I was working with last week. He had shared that we were working at Union Station years ago, and there was a project where they had some movements of concern and they really needed lot of data and they needed to be able to collect that and give information real time to the design team that was evaluating the problems with movements at that particular station. And basically came out of the need on that project, that they explore different tools and learned those tools so that they could be implemented on the project.

Steve Gosselin:                 Wow. That’s really cool. Did you mention earlier that we utilized robotics in some of this monitoring?

Kelly Clawson:                   Oh yeah, yeah. We’ve gone a lot of our work now with the movement monitoring is automated where, when I started in ECS, I think we had one robotic instrument back in 2017. And I think we had been relying upon some outside consultants to support that aspect of the work, but ECS has since invested significantly in the equipment to support that service line and now we’re nearly up to 30 robotic total stations.

Steve Gosselin:                 No kidding. My grandson would be totally fascinated by all that. He’s almost seven years old and he’s totally into robots. I’ll have to tell him that. I had no idea. I mean, I knew we were doing monitoring, but this is so fascinating. That’s great. Are you continuing to grow the business and if so, how and what can we do to help you?

Kelly Clawson:                   We’re really focusing now trying to get the word out. So this podcast has been really helpful. I think we’re also working on some more materials for a marketing campaign, but really the idea here is that we want to try to help other offices within the Mid-Atlantic and then other regions as well, if there’s interest to help grow their skill sets so that they can also capitalize on some of the lessons that we’ve learned over the last few years in building up our monitoring program and hopefully lend the opportunity for them to explore and chase more work in their own local markets. We’ve got really good penetration in the DC market right now, but we’re looking to help other offices outside our area.

Steve Gosselin:                 Okay, great. Well, that’s good to know. And that’s one of the main purposes of the podcast is not only to learn and get to meet and get to know some of our folks and what they do, but also to share ideas like this, about service lines and things that we’re doing. Kudos to you in showing up today and real informing us all and big kudo to Julie for getting this thing going and getting it pulled off. Julie, you got any, not chocolate questions, but you got any questions for Kelly?

Julie Smith:                         Yeah. You know I could talk about chocolate all day long. And I was like, and now Steve, you got me thinking about chocolate. You had to bring it up again.

Kelly Clawson:                   It’s a dangerous topic to bring up, for sure.

Julie Smith:                         Yes, I was like, everyone in my office knows, even actually my coworker brought me a cookie today. She knows the way to my heart.

                                                Well, Kelly, obviously like Steve has said, you’re very knowledgeable about this and you’re kind of leading this team. Can you give us for our listeners, maybe someone is interested in learning about monitoring services or maybe they’re looking to try something new and different, or they have an idea they want to run past their manager and get the ground going, could you speak to those listeners and maybe give them some advice as to what you recommend they do?

Kelly Clawson:                   Yeah. I think it really just comes down to a few things. First is really understanding what your client’s needs are and why you potentially might need to utilize some different tools to help them get the information that they need on their project. And then what resources are available to you either internally or external. Our Chantilly operation, we have a lot of experience and we can certainly help any other office review projects and help put together proposals and work out approaches, technical approaches on how somebody might implement our service line.

                                                But the main idea though, is you draw from what experience you have internally, but also understand what other resources are available externally in the industry. And for us, a lot of its technology base, and there’s lots of vendors who want to sell us equipment. You can get a lot of information from people and you can certainly get a lot in person, hands on training from outside vendors as well, when you’re exploring a service line, similar to ours, anything that’s heavy with equipment or technology, I would say, certainly partner up with exploring those tools with outside vendors and reap as much as you can from their knowledge and experiences as well.

Steve Gosselin:                 Right. Good question. And great answer. And this falls right in line with one of our core values, which is we want to give our people the freedom to try something new. We don’t want folks to be afraid to take a risk or make a suggestion, or come up with a new idea and this falls right in line with that. So that it’s good to know. If folks have more questions or they’re interested in being trained to provide these services, or they just want to find out more, who should they reach out too?

Kelly Clawson:                   By all means, feel free to contact me at the Chantilly office or reach out to me via Teams. I’m always here and be happy to work with you on anything that you’re potentially pursuing.

Steve Gosselin:                 All right. Great. Well, everybody give Kelly a call. All right. Now we’re going to shift over. We’re going to ask a few questions about what our listeners want to know. How would you answer the question, what does ECS do?

Kelly Clawson:                   What does ECS do? Well, I would say that basically we’re consultants. And so we try to understand what needs our clients have and we try to give them solutions and work with them to address those needs. I know the bulk of our work is the boots on the ground testing and inspection work, but there’s a whole lot else that we do with on the design side and investigation side as well. So I think in general, I would say we’re a team of consultants and we’re here to solve problems.

Steve Gosselin:                 There you go. Great answer. What is the funniest memory from your time here at ECS?

Kelly Clawson:                   Funny, there’s really nothing funny about monitoring. So I don’t have any silly stories. We’re very serious in there. We tease each other a lot. We’ve gotten our work down to such a process that I think we tease each other about being robots ourselves at this point. But no, we haven’t really had any mishaps or anything. We’re in the business of trying to make things very smooth and we’re not adding to the drama of construction. There’s always enough outside drama.

Steve Gosselin:                 That’s a great question. We might want to make that our new tagline, we’re not into making more or adding more drama to construction. That’s perfect. There you go. I love it. Before we wrap up, I got one final question. What fills your cup? What makes you happy or brings you joy?

Kelly Clawson:                   Any day when I can learn something new and just expand myself a little bit, that certainly brings me joy. And then as years go on, any opportunity I have to work with somebody else who shows an interest and wants to learn more [00:30:00] about what I’ve been fortunate enough to do over the years, that also brings me joy. Definitely just engaging with the young staff out of the school and sharing that knowledge has been a great thing for me.

Steve Gosselin:                 Awesome. Love it. Julie, you got any final parting shots?

Julie Smith:                         No, I think this has been a great conversation, really to help our employees know more about monitoring services so that we can go out and better serve our clients. And yeah, like Steve said, is a way to get to know some more folks and what technical expertise is out there because with our company growing so much and new faces popping up all the time, this has been really fun for me to learn more about our services. So thank you, Kelly.

Steve Gosselin:                 Awesome. Yeah. Any final comments, Kelly?

Kelly Clawson:                   Again, thank you for the opportunity to talk to you, Steve and Julie, and getting the good word out. And I’m looking forward to your podcast and learning more about learning more about ECS and the process here. So I think this is a great platform and I’m glad you guys are doing this.

Steve Gosselin:                 Well good. We are too, we’re excited about it. And we really love having the folks on here, especially you. You’ve really enlightened us today about not only the service line, but you and your team and what some of the things you guys can do and how we can help. So thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule. Thanks for being here. It’s really been informative. It’s really helped me as well, a lot too. Thanks a lot. And I look forward to talking again here very soon.

Kelly Clawson:                   That’s great. Thank you guys. I’ve enjoyed it as well. Thank you.

Steve Gosselin:                 All right. Great. Have a great day.



Steve Gosselin:                 Thank you for listening to Coffee Talk From the Ground Up. We hope you enjoy today’s episode. If you have an idea on future topics, guests, or are up for round of call, you can call me, text me, email me, just get in touch with me and I’ll get it to Julie and we’ll get it set up.

Julie Smith:                         And for those of you that don’t want to play golf and you may hate talking on the phone, that’s okay. You can send us an email at ECS marketing at ECSlimited.com. Be sure to follow us on social media and subscribe to this podcast, so you never miss an episode.

Steve Gosselin:                 Thanks Julie. Here’s to having a great day.