A Day in the Life of a Wetland DelineatorBri Richards is a wetland scientist and delineator at Burns & McDonnell. She spends her days conducting wetland assessments and delineations, regulatory permitting, and mitigation monitoring. Here she shares a look into her day-to-day life as a wetland delineator.

My Fitbit buzzes to inform me that I’ve achieved my 10,000 step-goal for the day. I chuckle when I glance at my watch and see that it’s only noon. Step goals are easy to meet when you’ve been hiking since dawn — something I do regularly as a wetland delineator at Burns & McDonnell.

What is a Wetland Delineator?

Prior to the 1970s, wetlands in the U.S. were drained and converted into other ecosystems at an alarming rate. Some states, such as California, reported wetland losses of up to 90 percent. With these rapidly diminishing wetlands came the disappearance of the unique ecosystem services provided by these areas: improved water quality, valuable wildlife habitat and protection from flooding to name a few.

Recognizing the value of our nation’s wetlands, the federal government issued a “No Net Loss” wetlands policy. Simply the put, the law states that if development will result in the net loss of a wetland area, an equal or greater amount of wetlands must be created. This policy led to a need for scientists who could identify wetlands, quantify impacts and create new wetlands, and thus the profession of wetland delineator was born.

All In a Day’s Work

By the end of the day, the mud-caked soles of my hiking boots will have added ten or more miles to their resume. They will have slogged through the saturated soil of a cattail wetland, guided me — safely, of course — beneath countless barbed wire fences, and tip-toed stealthily to spy on a flock of Sandhill cranes. Tonight I will stuff balled up newspaper into my trusty boots, courtesy of the hotel concierge. Even the best waterproof boots can’t remain dry through a downpour like the one they endured earlier that morning.

Despite the weather, the day has been a productive one. My field partner and I have surveyed several miles of a 200-foot-wide swath of land that— barring any major permitting obstacles — will become an overhead transmission line in a year or two.

I’ve dug seven soil pits, identified 20 botanical species, and carefully noted various indicators of wetland hydrology. My field partner, operating a tablet connected to a sub-meter accurate GPS unit, has meticulously mapped the boundaries of one wetland and two streams. I anticipate that we’ll finish the 15-mile survey area by the end of the week.

Once we complete the field work, we’ll board a plane and fly back to the Burns & McDonnell headquarters in Kansas City, Missouri. I’ll swap my hiking boots and fluorescent safety vest for suitable business wear, and then I’ll begin the process of assembling the wetland delineation report. The majority of my time will be spent post-processing the spatial data collected by the GPS, adding captions to dozens of photos, filling in electronic versions of the wetland delineation forms, and summarizing the previous week’s field visit in a six-page report.

Two weeks later, once my report has run the quality review gauntlet and has been submitted to the client for approval, I will already be at a new project site in a different state. But for now, at noon in a farm field in Indiana, I still have several more hours of hiking and adventure in front of me. It’s just another day in the life of a wetland delineator.

If you’re interested in a similar career path at a company that has consistently been ranked as one of Fortune magazine’s Best Companies to Work For, check out the current openings at Burns & McDonnell and apply today.

Bri Richards is a wetland scientist at Burns & McDonnell, specializing in wetland assessments and delineations, regulatory permitting, and mitigation monitoring.

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A Look Inside Burns & Mac: Jerome Farquharson, Utility Cybersecurity PioneerWhen people ask Jerome Farquharson about his job, he sometimes jokes that he works for the FBI. And while he’s not really a G-Man, his career objective is similar. As a regional global practice manager responsible for cybersecurity and regulatory compliance in the utility space, he protects infrastructure networks from people who want to cause them harm.

With a degree in computer science, Jerome began his career as a network engineer for commercial companies. He moved into cybersecurity, handling firewalls, intrusion detection and virtual private networks (VPN). A stint with a healthcare company — and the advent of HIPAA — gave him experience on the intersection of cybersecurity and compliance.

When Jerome joined Burns & McDonnell in 2006, cybersecurity in the utility space was an emerging need. In 2008, cybersecurity best practices became an issue of compliance with the introduction of the North American Reliability Corporation’s (NERC) Critical Infrastructure Protection rules (CIP). Today, as new threats emerge and cybersecurity needs evolve, so do NERC CIP requirements. Jerome and his team are there to guide utility clients through compliance, helping keep their control networks safe.

How has your job changed over the past decade?

Twenty years ago, cybersecurity at utilities was elementary. You had infrequently-updated workstations, default passwords and outmoded applications. The networks were susceptible to viruses and other issues, and in times of crisis — such as the widespread Northeast blackout in 2003 — these weaknesses really hindered the ability of utilities to provide services. When we started developing the cybersecurity department at Burns & Mac, we were really helping utilities catch up with the commercial world, which was a decade or two ahead. It’s a different world now, and that’s a very good thing.

What do you do, in a nutshell?

We help clients comply with NERC Reliability standards — in an advisory, consultant and a technical role.

  • We advise clients and guide them. These standards represent a big cultural change for many and require utility executives to take an essential role. The requirements are not always black and white, so we help with interpretation.
  • We serve as consultants. We can take a NERC Reliability compliance program and manage it with the benefit our experience and knowledge of best practices across the industry.
  • We are technical assets, because often our clients don’t have the resources internally. We implement — installing firewalls, working with OEM vendors and integrating the cybersecurity solution into their process. We test the solutions and document the results.

What is the most important thing about your work?

This job saves lives, really. We help protect the critical infrastructure people rely on. We help keep hospitals, government facilities, schools moving. We help keep life moving! It sounds very simple and it is, even though it’s very complex to implement.

How old were you when you discovered your path?

I was young, maybe eight, when I started to take apart things to and see how they worked. My first computer was a Commodore C-64. I paid $258 and it took me all summer to save up. That thing was huge; you could knock someone out with it. I started programming on the basic level and loved it. I studied computer science and did my master thesis on artificial intelligence.

What does your average day look like?

I am on the road almost 100 percent of the time, so my day starts very early to catch a flight. I meet with clients during the day, catch dinner with them and then catch up on proposals and emails in the hotel room at night. It can be draining to be on the road, so it helps to remember the impact of our work.

What do you think people would be surprised to learn about your job?

We come into contact with so many different types of people on a daily basis. We’ll talk to an engineer one hour and a CEO the next. We connect with IT departments and financial departments. And it’s all about one topic, because a strong cybersecurity strategy needs the input of many perspectives.

What routine task do you crush every day and how?

In the beginning, I didn’t like the long process of researching which manufacturer and which product was appropriate for a specific need. There were (and are) so many of them and I was green. I was learning. I developed my skill and began to understand which equipment works best for which things. Now, my recommendations are second nature and I am completely confident in them.

Tell me something interesting about your team.

Our team is so diverse but we have one thing in common — dessert. Everyone who eats dinner with me must have dessert. Without it, the meal isn’t complete. And if the restaurant doesn’t have good dessert, then it’s not a good restaurant. I’ve been blamed for some pounds gained around here!

Which of the benefits that Burns & Mac offers do you take advantage of most often?

We take advantage of the training, especially on the soft skills. We know what we do well and where we can improve. You know the stereotypes about tech people — and sometimes they are true — so we benefit from training about public speaking, communication skills and relationship-building.

What’s your favorite thing about working at Burns & McDonnell?

Burns & Mac gives you the ability to dream a dream and build it. There are no limits. The compliance and cybersecurity group is a great example of that. It’s a major component of our organization now and we ended up a leader in the industry. The creativity that’s allowed is tremendous.

What advice would you give to someone entering your field?

You must have passion for the work. It will be hard sometimes, and you’ll rely on the fact that you are part of something bigger than yourself. Our job is a running train. It doesn’t stop. It’s fast paced. You are going to be challenged and have to adjust. I love that. I face a different challenge every day. I use my creativity and every skill I have to learn along the way.

Jerome Farquharson oversees the compliance and critical infrastructure department in Burns & McDonnell’s St. Louis office. He regularly performs cyber and physical risk assessments for utilities and has extensive knowledge of government regulations, including NERC Reliability and CIP standards.

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What the World Needs Now is Engineers

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Each year we look forward to FORTUNE’s annual rankings of the top workplaces in the U.S. For the past five years, we’ve been among top 100 Best Companies to Work For — and this year is no exception. Today we learned that we landed the No. 16 spot! The Selection Process Now in its 19th year, […]

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Want a Job? Earn a STEM Degree

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We’re pretty bullish on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers — and for good reason. We can’t walk down a hallway here without running into a STEM star who is changing the world and having a blast doing it. Data supports our conviction. STEM jobs are growing at a faster pace and offering higher […]

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