More than 30 years ago, if he knew then what he knows now, CEC Nashville water resources senior project manager Gerald Burnette would have written a book — one that would have helped others recognize the value of his skills in data management and bring in more work throughout his career. But he couldn’t have done it without gaining knowledge over the course of three decades.
The wait is over.
Managing Environmental Data: Principles, Techniques, and Best Practices was released on December 22, 2021, a labor of love that Gerald says took a little over a year to write but is the manifestation of a career’s worth of tips, tricks, and insights. The 354-page book is being touted as a textbook for academic institutions and professionals alike.
Though he jokes that having written this book decades ago would have helped take away some of the aches and pains of demonstrating how important it is to properly manage data, Gerald feels accomplished in how it has the potential to shape others’ careers, including students at his alma mater, Maryville College.
“For the last several years, Maryville College has had a minor in environmental science. Now, they’re developing it into a major, so I’ve talked with professors about how this book can help,” Gerald says. “We’re talking about the importance of science and managing data, and they are considering making the topic a core component of the curriculum.”
The opportunity to write this book developed from a longtime acquaintance of Gerald’s, Dr. Steve Bartell, who has a history of editing books for publisher CRC Press. Steve had been tasked with finding authors for new books and approached Gerald. Steve is familiar with Gerald’s work on the software DASLER and first pondered whether a book could be written about that.
Developed by Gerald, DASLER — the Data Management and Analysis System for Lakes, Estuaries, and Rivers — has been designated as the only officially supported software for this purpose by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). Gerald thought a book only about DASLER would be interesting for the people involved, but not a broad audience.
So the two settled on a book that could present broad concepts and show how it applies in the real world. Part 1 of Managing Environmental Data focuses on the theoretical — principles, techniques, best practices, etc. It explains why databases should be used, what they do well, and how to best incorporate them as part of projects. Part 2 is the story of DASLER and shows those principles, techniques, and best practices in action.
“It’s important to note that sometimes the real-world applications violate best practices,” Gerald explains. “That’s what gives this book a different feel. There is guidance, and then there are practical applications. We made sure to hammer home the point that there may be times where it is necessary to violate a best practice mentioned earlier in the book.”
The book can prove valuable to students studying environmental science and the principles of managing data, as well as professionals who may not have gotten such training and are now being told they need to manage their data more efficiently. Gerald says he kept that all in mind and framed the book in that context, presenting the most useful information that can get someone pointed in the right direction regardless of their starting point.
Data analysis is often the basis for making significant decisions on projects, but confidence in the analysis relies on an equal level of confidence in the data itself. Properly managing the data provides the required level of confidence by ensuring information is consistent, complete, and accurate. This assurance will benefit clients from a safety and compliance standpoint, as well as financially.
Gerald says that in his five years at CEC, he has been impressed with how data management is incorporated into the scope of work for the company’s projects compared to some others. Throughout his career, he says, he has often experienced situations in which clients are not thinking about data management, so when it comes time later in the project to implement it, there is little or no budget for it.
The growth in the applications of environmental data and its intricacies can challenge environmental professionals, and with Managing Environmental Data, Gerald aims to provide a guiding light to help mitigate those challenges.
“There have been times in my career when it has been a struggle getting people to recognize the value in what I do. That’s one of the good things about CEC,” Gerald says. “There’s a willingness to work with clients to establish a budget for data management and ensure they understand why it’s important and the amount of time and money that will need to be dedicated to it.
“At CEC, we represent ourselves as experts in our various fields, and I took that to heart in writing this. Having this book in our arsenal proves we have the quality engineers and scientists, as well as the data management technical know-how to help our clients.”
For more information on Managing Environmental Data, click here.
About CEC Nashville
CEC Nashville provides services in civil/site engineering, geotechnical engineering, landscape architecture, survey/geospatial, ecological sciences, waste management, environmental engineering, water resource engineering, traffic/transportation, and GIS. We specialize in ecosystem restoration, mitigation banking, listed species, wetland and stream determinations, floodplain management and modeling, MS4 permits and compliance, wastewater engineering, solid waste management, site planning and engineering design, landscape architecture, due diligence services, survey, municipal engineering and infrastructure, and construction inspection services.