The Video Conundrum

If a still picture is worth a thousand words, full motion video must equal a novel. In the arena of sewer maintenance and rehabilitation, video is gold — an invaluable modern day tool.

Most cities perform inspections of pipe throughout the year and use that data to prioritize and schedule the following year’s maintenance. It has become standard practice to record and maintain video documentation of those pipe inspections. Therefore, video data is critical to assessing potential weaknesses and preventing pipe failures. Measuring deterioration over time is probably the most important reason to retain video.

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However, all of that valuable video data presents a new set of challenges for many municipalities. How should they most efficiently maintain, store and index their video data? How long should the video be kept? What is the best format for long-term storage? How can they archive their valuable data and still find the specific piece of footage they need when and if future questions arise? Changes in video technology over the past five to seven years has required significant investment in hardware and software for contractors and municipalities.

The video archival and indexing conundrum is not unique to municipalities or the sewer rehabilitation industry. Many corporate entities and government agencies are struggling with how to manage massive quantities of important video data that has accumulated over the years. Research labs, schools, libraries and corporations have thousands of hours of video data in a variety of analog and digital formats such as VHS, DVD and MPEG to maintain. Finding a consistent, reliable method to store all this information, then being able to accurately search it to locate just the specific information that is needed is a particularly difficult challenge with video data.

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NASSCO’s belief is that industry-wide standards regarding video data formats, archival methods and file naming could greatly alleviate confusion and streamline the archival process. Standards, such as the Pipeline Assessment and Certification Program (PACP), already exist for coding defects and construction features from CCTV pipeline inspection video. This standard helps reduce costs and spend sewer rehabilitation budgets more efficiently. However, no such standards exist regarding the duration of long-term storage and the digital conversion of the video itself.

Seattle’s Plan

One example of a municipality tackling this cumbersome issue is the City of Seattle. Seattle’s Public Utilities (SPU) department has four trucks performing daily pipe inspections, eventually covering more than 1,600 miles of infrastructure — 8.448 million ft.  Each 300 ft of pipe fills one VHS video tape. That calculates to more than 28,000 video tapes for just one pass over each pipe. Imagine the accumulation of video over 10, 20 or 30 years of routine inspections. SPU has been recording their inspections since the 1970s.

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Archived VHS videotape is necessary but limiting. The tapes degrade over time and require bulky VCRs and TVs to view. They can only be viewed in one location at a time by a limited number of people and have no mechanism for searching, so it is incredibly time consuming to find a particular segment of footage.

“If a pipe was deemed completely healthy, the video has not always been retained, but several thousand of those original video tapes are useful, and we still store them, particularly for high priority pipe locations,” said John Jurgens of Seattle’s Public Utilities.

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SPU personnel access the several thousand remaining older VHS tapes fairly routinely. The data contained in these video tapes is still relevant and useful. As time and resources permit, SPU is digitizing the archived video tapes and adding them to its database so the maintenance of a particular pipeline can be more easily researched. The inspection report with the coded data along with the digitized source video is entered and stored in SPU’s central database.

“Today, we, of course, use CCTV cameras with reporting software and analyze everything using PACP,” Jurgens said.

Sophisticated CCTV cameras with reporting software and PACP have helped municipalities better understand the status of our nation’s aging pipelines. Manhole numbers are used as the key tags to allow for successful searching of the video to locate a particular video segment

Video, like any technology, will change. Municipalities and others in the trenchless technology industry play an important role in shaping how the industry handles these changes. NASSCO helps educate the industry on important standards, like PACP, that ensure consistency and quality with regard to assessing the condition of our nation’s underground infrastructure. As a service to the trenchless technology industry, NASSCO offers specification guidelines to the industry on its Web site — A variety of guidelines are offered with regard to video guidelines, such as mainline sewers, lateral sewers, zoom inspection and more.

To learn more about NASSCO, including PACP and CCTV, visit

Irvin Gemora is the executive director of NASSCO, which is headquartered in Owings Mill, Md.

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