Dirty Jobs: Inside Sewer Video Surveillance

Author: Carlton Purvis, Published on Feb 04, 2014

Analyzing images through sewage and murky water, cameras that regularly break with each repair costing thousands, running thousands of feet of cable. Such is the life of a pipeline camera operator. For another installment of our expert interview series, we spoke to a pipe inspection industry veteran about how CCTV is used to maintain aging infrastructure.

“The big push right now is to prevent overflows,” says Jim Aanderud, president of Innerline Engineering. An overflow, which often comes from a blockage in the line, can send thousands of gallons of sewage into storm drains and eventually out to rivers, and the ocean. The fines can be significant. Some places have been fined as much as $10 per gallon, he said.

Aging Infrastructure

Much of America’s pipelines were designed to have 50 year life-spans, but much of the existing infrastructure has been in place well above that.

“These cameras are the frontline of billions of dollars being allocated for the rehabilitation of sewer systems. Firms like mine are hired to do assessment of sometimes a whole city,” he said. “You’ll have a city with 1,000 to 2,000 miles of pipe. We’ll go in an inspect every foot of a city’s sewer line and try to identify all the problems that exist there. The city will decide what things they need to immediately rehabilitate or what can wait five or 10 years down the line.”

The Cameras

“The guts are mostly the same as what you’re using in surveillance cameras,” he said. Most are 720X480 resolution cameras, mounted on a robotic tractor tethered by a cable. The cameras are attached to an articulating head so they can look around inside a pipe and zoom in to inspect anomalies. Other setups use panoramic cameras.

The major manufacturers for these cameras are CUES, R.S. Technical Services, Envirosight, and Aries Industries, he said.

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Pipe ******* **** * ***** ****Because of the extreme operating conditions, the cameras tend to have a pretty rough life. A camera typically lasts about five years, but in the period of time “you’re spending tens of thousands” of dollars on repair costs. Small repairs are done in-house, but major repairs usually require cameras go back to the manufacturer. The average repair costs $5,000.

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Comments (1)

Interesting interview! Never knew they'd use robots there!

“The simple reason for that is because of storage issues,” he said. These inspections produce a large amount of data. "We finished a city recently where we did over 2.4 million feet of inspections and ended up with 10,000 different data files, and over 4,000 videos, pictures and reports.”

How much this translate to in terms of GB/TB?

Also, it is my understanding that the cables being used aren't capable of pushing the HD signal

Which is the cable used here?

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