This lecture is part of the 2009 Nationwide Cemetery Preservation Summit
Mount Auburn by Kelly Streeter, Kent Diebolt, William Barry, and Natalie Wampler
Kelly Streeter: Hi I’m Kelly Streeter and I wanted to start by explaining a little bit about how someone from a company called Vertical Access ends up at a cemetery preservation summit. I wanted to tell the story behind this pilot study we’ve conducted. About a year ago Kent Diebolt, who is the founding partner of Vertical Access, had a lunch meeting I think at an APT conference with Natalie’s boss who is Billy Barry, vice president in charge of facilities and preservation at Mount Auburn. Out of that lunch came this idea that wouldn’t it be neat if we could get together and see if some of the documentation technology Vertical Access uses, to document historic facades of buildings, could be applicable to the ongoing monument survey project that was already underway at Mount Auburn. I’m going to pass it over to Natalie and she is going to start by telling us a little bit about the history of the Mount Auburn survey project.
Natalie:I think most of you know Mount Auburn cemetery was founded in 1831 of the first design landscape open to the public. It’s 175 acres and we have over 90,000 residents. We have an ongoing monument survey. We’ve been surveying the monuments since 2000 and typically with one intern a year.
After the preservation initiative, we had a values and commitments statement which was accepted by our trustees. Some of those commitment statements were that we need to document all structures, we need to take into consideration safety and look out for safety concerns. We need to fulfill our perpetual care obligations with families to the best of our abilities. Therefore it really just gave us more of a reason why we need to continue this survey. Last year I had 4 interns working on the monument survey and we thought if we had 4 interns, we would be able to survey the cemetery’s monuments every 8 years. Every monument would get surveyed once every 8 years.
We made fantastic progress, actually with the 4 interns we pretty much nearly doubled the work in one year that we had done from 2000 to 2007. Then there’s the economy, the meltdown, our endowment lost about a third. This past summer I was only able to hire one intern to continue the survey. If we look at the map I color coded it to show the periods of development. Blue is the oldest area of the cemetery, it’s the historic core and as you move out, you get to warmer colors that’s the most recently developed areas of the cemetery. Brown and orange are the most recently developed areas. In the beginning they focused the survey, as we still are, on the historic core. Within the red outline is the area of the cemetery the monuments that have been surveyed. 24% of the monuments have been completely surveyed which means they’ve all been photographed and we have an access form for each lot, for each monument which details its description and condition.
The additional 4%, the 28% of monuments being photographed this year, because I only had one intern we decided to only photograph monuments so we increased an additional 4% of all the monuments at the site have been photographed. We decided to put on hold the access survey form because we can photograph the monuments which is a great document resource, and also assess safety without filling out the access forms which take a bit more time. How many monuments do we have? We think we have between 44,000 and 45,000 monuments. I say we think because we don’t have an exact number.
We do have a separate database that’s a GIS mapping system that has all of the interments and that’s what our cemetery sales crew uses. That has not been official or helpful for our preservation purposes. That database is designed for active cemetery interments and in that GIS system 35,000 of the monuments have been drawn in. During the preservation initiative I went out and counted that approximately 9,000 more additional monuments by looking at sales plans, what could be allowed and what looked to be out on the site.
It’s a rough number between 44 and 45,000 monuments. Of that 44 to 45,000 monuments a third of them we know for sure how many have perpetual care. Which means the cemetery has entered into a contract with the family to care for the monument in some capacity. A typical perpetual care contract is we’ll wash the monument, we’ll keep it pointed and we’ll keep it [plum 00:05:11]. We’re doing an excellent job on washing the monuments, we have a 3 to 5 year cycle for all of our perpetual care monuments. Part of the preservation initiative was let’s be proactive and not just react to trees falling on monuments and when a monument falls over because it’s unstable. To deal with things before it happens and to be proactive with our maintenance.
How do we undertake our survey? We have access forms, there’s one form for the entire lot. It talks about what central lot, how many monuments, what’s the grades, what are the plans. I should also mention there’s a separate database, outside of the GIS plot finder interment database, that’s for our horticultural elements. We use BG Maps which is botanical garden mapping system and those horticultural elements are also surveyed. What we’re talking about today is strictly structures and monuments survey. After we survey the lot, we take a photograph of the entire lot. We’ll then survey each individual monument. There’s an access form that talks about the description of the monument, is it a marker? Is it a family monument? Is it a headstone? What kind of ornament does it have? Then there’s also a condition form. Is it unsafe? What level? We have priorities for safety concerns. Is the text legible? Is it illegible? I have volunteers on a separate project that go and record the inscriptions on marble monuments.
About half of that 44, 45,000 monuments are marble and they’re deteriorating very quickly. So grave rubbing is not allowed, I send volunteers out to the areas and transcribe inscriptions that are wearing and often aren’t caught well by photographs. What do we do with all that information once we’ve collected it? Usually I will take what the interns collect and prioritize further the safety concerns. Then I hand them off to my colleague, David Gallagher, who is chief of conservation, and he has a crew of craft people wash these [inaudible 00:07:12] that will help take care of the monuments. Things we find unsafe I prioritize and give to David. One of the problems is although we have this Access database and we have photos of a quarter of all the monuments at the cemetery, they’re on the network but staff really don’t find it accessible. Besides me most people don’t go to look at those photographs, they don’t go to look and access that information. Even though it’s there and it’s there so we partnered with Kelly Streeter and Vertical Access to see if TPARS could help improve that situation, and also help us make more use of our valuable intern time.
Kelly Streeter:This is a shot that shows how TPARS is normally used in my world, In the protocol plain on building facades. TPARS Stands for the tablet, PC and rotation system and it was originally developed for the annotations and organization of façade survey data. The software runs at a full version of AutoCAD in the field on tablet computers and allows the surveyor to capture notes and photos. It exports all of that data into a generic file format called a CAD [delimited 00:08:31] file that allows import into Excel, I saw that happening (laughter), Excel, Microsoft Access or any other database program. It’s easy to see why Kent and Bill thought there would be some synergy here. In July I headed up to Mount Auburn to have a meeting with Natalie and Bill to try to figure out how we were going to accomplish this pilot study. I was a little concerned because I’ve worked on many, many buildings but never in a cemetery. I immediately felt at ease when I walked into their office because I could see all of the analogous components to a survey that I was used to.
There were base drawings. In this case pinned up against the wall with this elaborate color coding system and there were photographs on CDs, piles of CDs everywhere with photographs. I learned that before 2006 they had kept everything on CDs and after ’06 they had moved everything to the network. Bill, Natalie and I sat down, we started talking about their frustrations with their current system. Natalie’s big one, the one that kept coming up over and over again, was this frustration and annoyance that she had to spend this valuable intern time renaming photos. As we were saying the name IMG000326 doesn’t mean anything to anybody. They would take the photos out in the field, come back and spend at least that amount of time finding them, trying to figure out when they were taken and trying to rename them with the memorial reference number or the lot number.
There was sometimes a 2 phase input of data and the recession eliminated this problem because she only had one intern. When she had 4, she did not have 4 laptop computers and some of those interns were out in the field taking notes on paper. Having on a rainy day to take all that information, sit at a computer in the office and input all that information into Access. The lot cards which show proprietor information and perpetual care agreements, really valuable information for this survey. Those scanned lot cards which it’s great they were already scanned but they were kept in yet another location. The surveyors in the field would have to do some of their fill in data time back in the office when they had access to those lot cards. Finally what bugged me, we didn’t end up addressing this, but what bugged me was there was a lack of a link between the treatment that was undertaken and the original survey.
The conservation database was completely separate from the preservation database. In my real world we would have addressed that but we did not get there. What we wanted was to see if we could increase the efficiency of the data collection of the interns because now that intern time is extremely valuable. We wanted to see if we could get them using tablet computers directly in the field by using a visual map instead of just based on lot numbers and Access. We wanted to increase the resulting database by adding 2 things, geographic location and photos. Having photos immediately accessible and finally, again, I wanted to try to keep preservation and conservation at least talking to each other. This is that treatment database, this is a totally separate, very complicated database that is in no way linked with Natalie’s database. We started by choosing a pilot study area and to me this looked like a lot of work, but when you take it in the context of all of Mount Auburn it’s tiny. It’s a drop in a bucket.
This was 2 days of effort and we started- I had to do this to get everything straight in my head. I will go to pains to explain it. In the field we had 2 different processes, the first was TPARS data acquisition and then Access data acquisition. You’ll see this figure a couple more times so don’t attempt to understand it all right away. This is the time when I have to do this because my movie I have embedded doesn’t play on this computer so I have to do this. It helps that I can’t see my screen. This is going to show you what- this is just an active screenshot of TPARS in the field. This is what’s on my tablet computer as I’m surveying. This is a focused in area of that pilot study and you can see we’ve got comparable blocks on the left. A lot survey block, memorial condition and memorial description block. We can input that lot number and while this box is open, I can take a picture. There’s a camera attached to the USB port of the tablet. So 2 things happen, I close that out and I can automatically open up the lot card.
The computer just from me putting in 2346 went, found the lot card file and hyper-linked it to the drawing. We’re falling off the bottom here but this shows me saying hyper-link, open hyper-link. There’s the original lot card. In the field there’s not this searching that needs to be done. The second thing I can do is that little star, which should have blown this up a little bit more, is a hyper-link to the photo I just took of the lot. That photo was automatically renamed with the XY co-ordinates of its location in the drawing. You can see the name here 2398, 1090 and one means it was the first picture taken of the lot. Now I have to figure out how to get back to my presentation without breaking my neck. I knew this was going to happen. That’s the TPARS portion of the survey and then we would switch over to Access.
Originally we had thought we are going to take all of our information in AutoCAD and then we realized that Access is really designed to do this work. You can use check boxes, you can use drop down lists and although anything’s possible with AutoCAD, it takes a whole lot of programmer time to figure out how to do all that in this attribute tag structure we’re using. We stuck with Access for now. We would fill out the monument marker survey and back in the office, we would take the TPARS information and export it creating 2 new tables in Natalie’s existing database. They’re very simple tables, there’s a lot table and there’s a memorial table. This is a lot table. It’s very easy, it’s a lot number, XY location and a photo. Here is the memorial description table which is a unique reference number for the memorial, the XY location and the photo. Really simple information that we’re adding here but what it allows us to do is improve these queries on the database that Natalie was using.
She was interested in difficult to read text, illegible text, primary material and safety concerns. This is the output of the queries, this is all safety concerns that say yes. Whether or not there’s a perpetual care contract, you can tell not many of these have it, XY location and the photo. That’s information she didn’t immediately have access to before. I had to show this because it was rather exciting for me being my first cemetery. We actually saw a safety concern during our little pilot study. The last thing is whether or not- or how she would use the map, how her colleagues would use the map. This is an example. There’s layer management capability in AutoCAD so she can geographically see- you can see the reds turn on, those are for safety concerns. That will allow her to prioritize her conservation group’s efforts a little bit more.
In conclusion did we increase the efficiency? We think the actual survey process on site was about the same once everybody got used to tablet computers. The fact we don’t have to rename photos back in the office is a huge time saver. We did enhance the queries that where is lot 4672 question? We did not tackle the preservation, conservation database linking issue. Next we’d like to add lot numbers to photo names. As much as I like to think that everyone’s going to turn into geographic co-ordinates right away, they still really communicate on the basis of lot numbers a lot. We’re going to put the lot number then the XY location in the photo name. We’d like to replace GPS co-ordinates, it’s relatively easy to do. We didn’t do it for some reason but GPS co-ordinates can be replaced instead of an arbitrary XY origin. Which in, I like to call the Jetson’s future, all of their little electronic cars will have dash mounted GPS units. So they know they have to do a treatment, they can go straight there with their GPS unit.
Finally in that Access list that shows all the photos there’s got to be a way, I haven’t figured out how, but there’s got to be a way to have those all be links to the photos. She can just click on them and open them. Natalie is going to close with a couple of comments.
Natalie: Part of the pilot survey I thought was really exciting was the ability to visually, on a map- because I have lists all the time but on a map visually look and see oh these are all the illegible monuments. I’m going to send my volunteers there to record the inscriptions before they’re gone or nearly illegible monuments. Or these are all the safety issues and I’m going to send David to this area first because there’s a great concentration of unsafe monuments. We can work faster if we’re all in one area. In previous attempts, before mapping and now I map on paper which is slow and tedious, but before we started to map and prioritize our conservation work they would fix a monument over here. Then they’d be done here then oh yeah, we found another one up here. This is greatly helpful for me to look at on a map. Also for the other staff to be able to click on the monument and see the photographs of the monument from the map.
Thank you very much, we look forward to your comments at the end.
Founded in 1831, Mount Auburn was the first large‐scale designed landscape open to the public. Currently juggling its existence as a public destination, National Landmark site and active cemetery, Mount Auburn’s 175 acres boast a wealth of fences, fountains, chapels, ornamental plantings and approximately 44,000 monuments. Tracking conditions and prioritizing upkeep and repairs on these various assets is a daunting task. Currently a survey of the monuments is being completed using a Microsoft Access forms‐based system, and carrying standard laptop computers into the field. Sometimes equipment limitations or failure requires a traditional two‐step process of inspection taking paper notes in the field followed by data logging back in the office.
Currently, there are no photo‐linking features of the system. Vertical Access developed the Tablet PC Annotation System (TPAS) to allow on‐site documentation of existing building conditions using tablet computers and digital cameras. TPAS combines the utility of the AutoCAD program commonly used by architects and engineers for the annotation of elevation, plan and section drawings with customized programming to streamline quantity measurements and photographic documentations. With the system existing conditions are noted in graphic and numeric formats in AutoCAD using pre‐defined block libraries of material conditions. TPAS was developed primarily for the inspection of building elevations and has been used extensively for this purpose over the past five years.
In reality, the technology can be applied to plan surveys as well, and cemetery assessment is a natural application of the technology. Mount Auburn Cemetery was an ideal partner for a TPAS pilot project. They are already engaged in and committed to completing a thorough multi‐year survey of all of their monuments and the content and structure of the data for their survey has been carefully planned, yet their professional staff and available resources for the effort are very limited. This pilot project involves the creation of a cemetery‐specific conditions attribute tag library and the training of Mount Auburn personnel in the use of TPAS on a limited survey project. The ease‐of‐use and functionality of TPAS will be compared with their current tracking system. The relative advantages of the two systems will be discussed and cemetery‐specific improvements to each system suggested. This session will explore the potential that TPAS has for Mount Auburn as well as other cemeteries large, small, public and private.