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A Dock Information System for the Great Lakes: Part 2

Inside the implementation and testing of a new DIS providing comprehensive information on all docks on the Great Lakes

Part 1 of this article, written by Samir Dhar and Dr. Peter Lindquist, was previously published in Edition 48 of Port Technology International.


This paper documents the second phase of a wider data collection effort undertaken by the University of Toledo and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE or Corps) for a web-based system used to collect, organize, and transfer data pertaining to piers, wharves, docks and terminals (i.e. dock facilities) in support of maritime transportation.

This system was developed in response to a recent initiative undertaken by the Corps to update the methodology used to assemble and maintain timely and accurate data for the nation’s dock facilities. This updated approach will replace previous methods from the Corps’ Port Series Reports to a more dynamic and continuous updating process in the Corps’ new Master Docks Plus (MDP) database. The design, development, and testing phase of this project has been described previously in Edition 48 of Port Technology International.

Much of the effort in the first phase of the project was devoted to the design, development and implementation of the web-based data collection system. The second phase of the project reported here concentrated on a pilot study to test the direct web entry approach, where individual dock and terminal operators were given the opportunity to enter the data directly into the registry themselves, without any intermediaries and with limited need for site visits by Corps personnel or the project team. This study was carried out at the Port of Toledo, Ohio – the area formerly known as Port Series 44.

Pilot study process

The test phase of this project was devoted to empirically evaluating the functionality of the web application and testing its effectiveness in gathering data. A high priority was placed on the users’ perspective in order to provide a versatile web application system that was user-centered for dock owner/operators, yet sufficiently robust for Corps personnel as a data collection and verification instrument. The subsequent testing through the Port of Toledo provided valuable feedback to the project team; the system’s functions and user interface for the web application were monitored closely and modified as needed throughout this process. The proximity to the Port of Toledo provided an excellent opportunity for testing the new web application’s effectiveness.

The project team was able to meet several times with officials from the Toledo/Lucas County Port Authority to assist in contacting dock owner/operators. According to the Corps’ Port Series #44 book details, 35 docks were listed for the port. The dock facility information from Port Series #44 was input into the system. This initial version of the database was then updated by dock owner/operators through a series of letters, phone calls, and site visits from the project team.

Table 1 provides an overview of the Port of Toledo docks, as verified with the Toledo/Lucas County Port Authority, and the effort necessary to generate an organization response to collect data via the DIS. In addition to the preliminary database, some docks were added and some were removed since this was last reported in the Port Series #44 book in 2000. The bottom six docks listed in Table 1 have been identified as inactive.

After some initial consultations with the Corps regarding dock identification protocols, the process essentially began with a mailing campaign to dock/terminal owner/operators in June 2009, after the system was updated with new login information. As a follow-up, dock owner/operators were contacted by phone after the letters were mailed and were allowed time for receipt. Appointments were set up at this time for users requesting additional instructions. Subsequently, emails were sent to individuals that could not be reached by phone or in addition to leaving phone messages.

Several site visits were made in cases where the information of the dock owner/operator or the operations of the dock were not clear. It is important to note here that no effort was put forth by members of the project team to measure buildings, equipment, or otherwise assess facility characteristics during a site visit. These visits were strictly to instruct terminal operators on the use of the system. Six of the docks were not updated through the DIS due to lack of response from owner/operators. Six docks were also found that were no longer in operation, and two new docks were identified as not originally in the Corps’ list. Information pertaining to the new docks was passed on to the Corps in order for new GUIDs to be issued for entry into the DIS.

The remaining terminal operators were contacted via phone or email (and sometimes both) as a follow-up to the letters. Six additional companies set up site visits during the summer. Two docks were updated through the system via telephone interview.

Two respondents indicated that they would update through the site at a later time and did in fact go in and update their dock facilities’ data. In all, 21 of 27 docks identified as ‘active’ were updated in the DIS through this effort. In one instance, a site visit took place with a dock operator while technical difficulties were present; the operator cooperated with a paper survey to update the information. A member of the project team then updated the database for the operator. In this one case the problem was resolved in a timely manner later the same day and was not an issue with any other respondents. As the project team worked with more users over the course of the summer, it was decided that a complete users’ guide with detailed instructions should be made available for download on the website.

Samir Dhar, Research Technician, Sarah Schafer, Project Manager, & Dr. Peter Lindquist, Associate Professor of Geography, Department of Geography and Planning, University of Toledo, Ohio, USA