Widespread adoption of new technologies, and innovative methods of locating and mapping utilities will help damage prevention stakeholders meet the Common Ground Alliance’s “50-in-5” challenge, according to the CGA’s 2022 Damage Information Reporting Tool (DIRT) Report.
Released in September 2023, the 2022 DIRT Report indicates that damage to subsurface utilities during excavation and other groundbreaking activities are, at best, flat year-over-year, but more likely increasing when accounting for economic factors. Predictive metrics such as damages per unit of construction spending and per one thousand 811 transmissions increased 12.35% and 9.34%, respectively, between 2021 and 2022.
The most persistent singular root cause of damage year-over-year continues to be failure to notify 811 prior to breaking ground, with 77% of no-call damages attributed to professional excavators in 2022. Landscaping/fencing, water/sewer and construction are the top types of work performed when professionals cause no-notification damages, according to the DIRT Report.
The report also states that “top root causes associated with locator error likely mask deeper issues like inaccurate maps, faulty tracer wire or abandoned facilities.”
While recognizing that her organization’s data reveals some troubling trends, CGA President & CEO, Sarah K. Magruder Lyle, wrote in a letter included in the 2022 Dirt Report that “this year’s insights underscore consistent priority action areas that will significantly reduce damages.”
“For facility owners, GIS-based mapping of assets and communication are urgently needed to improve locating timelines and accuracy,” Magruder Lyle said. “Construction, maintenance, installation and locating contracts must incentivize adherence to Best Practices and drive damage reductions. Excavators must double down on safe work practices and proper use of 811. Expanded enforcement and education programs are essential to motivate compliance. And improved damage reporting and analysis across the industry is required to strengthen our understanding of challenges and measure progress toward 50-in-5.”
Announced in February 2023, the CGA’s 50-in-5 challenge is a call to action with a goal of reducing damages to critical underground utilities by 50% in five years.
The challenge is targeted around three focus areas that, according to the CGA, “prioritize critical issues identified by CGA’s Next Practices Initiative and the top damage root causes that contribute to more than 76% of damages to buried infrastructure.”
These three focus areas are:
- Effective and consistent use of 811: Since 2002, contractors and excavators have been required by law to contact their state’s 811 “One Call” service to obtain the approximate locations of any buried public utilities on their job site before breaking ground. But while DIRT data and market research indicate that 811 awareness is high – particularly among professional excavators – the CGA finds that 60% of damages to underground utilities are caused specifically by professional contractors not contacting 811 prior to digging.
- Key excavator practices (potholing, maintaining clearance, etc.): Proper potholing, or test holing, to confirm the location of buried utilities, combined with maintaining the required clearance around those utilities once they’ve been located, are integral to protecting subsurface infrastructure.
- Accurate, timely utility locating: The CGA has found that improving the accuracy of utility mapping is crucial to helping utility locators work more efficiently and accurately. Additionally, electronic white lining – a process through which excavators are provided a method for indicating their defined dig area visually by electronic data entry without the need for a physical site visit – allows for locators to pinpoint their efforts and avoid locating subsurface objects outside of the project area.
The 2022 Dirt Report recommends specific actions that stakeholders should take to achieve what the CGA acknowledges is an aggressive goal in reducing damage by 50% over the next five years.
These actions are divided into five categories: Collaboration, Reporting and Analysis; Targeting the No-Notification Root Cause; Targeting Locator Error Root Causes; Targeting Excavation Root Causes; and Effective Enforcement of All Aspects of the Damage Prevention Process.
Below are those recommendations, per the CGA and the 2022 DIRT Report:
Collaboration, Reporting and Analysis
- Commit to unprecedented coordination and flexibility within organizations and across stakeholder groups to generate new solutions to systemic issues.
- Participate in the Damage Prevention Institute’s accreditation and peer review processes; submit data and metrics to DIRT monthly to enhance value of insights.
- Standardize data collection fields and processes across relevant stakeholder groups to enable greater portability of data for benchmarking.
- Incentivize comprehensive damage and near-miss reporting across organizational departments; integrate reporting into operating workflows.
- Socialize tools and guidance to identify root causes beyond catch-alls.
- Develop damage prevention index/indices to better measure fluctuations in the rate of damage to buried facilities over time and gauge 50-in-5 in progress.
Targeting the No-Notification Root Cause
- Focus 811 outreach to excavators on behavior change – particularly consistent and effective use of 811 – and tailor messages to professional vs. private property excavators, focusing on the types of contractors and digging activities driving the majority of no-notification damages.
- Restore confidence in the 811 system: Consider out-of-the-box ideas for meeting locating demand while reducing unnecessary locate requests; invest in locating process efficiencies and technologies.
Targeting Excavation Root Causes
- Prioritize tolerance zone safety on the job site (pothole, maintain marks, use observers to help maintain clearance), in trainings, via technology investments (vacuum excavators, etc.) and through contract structures.
- Facility owner/operators are the project owners for much of the work performed when failure to pothole/maintain clearance damages occur; they must address contract requirements and adequate compensation for potholing.
- Provide excavators with access to additional information such as map visualizations of the job site through processes like Enhanced Positive Response.
Targeting Locator Error Root Causes
- Prioritize sufficient resources to meet marking timelines and consider innovative technologies and/or processes for leveling locating demand.
- Immediately begin enhancing facility maps to GIS-grade to enable accurate locating, and update maps with facility location information captured in the field.
- Address contract structures between facility owner/operators and third-party locators to increase efficiencies in the process, enabling them to meet locating demand and reduce damages.
- Provide timely, accurate positive responses to the 811 center.
- Encourage effective use of the 811 system to reduce overall locator workloads, including through electronic white lining, inputting the correct size/scope of tickets and ticket renewal practices.
Effective Enforcement of All Aspects of the Damage Prevention Process
- Examine enforcement of all primary participants in the process to ensure penalties are effective and incentivize those involved to change their behavior. It is important to hold the asset owner, excavator and locator appropriately responsible in the adjudication process.
“Meeting the challenge of reducing the top damage root causes will require forward-thinking practices and true industry transformation,” the CGA writes in the 2022 DIRT Report.
At GPRS, our infrastructure visualization services, combined with SiteMap®, our industry-leading, cloud-based infrastructure mapping software, address many of the best practices that the CGA believes will help stakeholders meet their 50-in-5 challenge. Additionally, we are so committed to achieving our goal of 100% subsurface damage prevention that we regularly participate in industry events and programs focused on protecting our buried infrastructure.
Contacting 811 before you break ground isn’t just a good idea – it's the law.
But 811 locates public utilities. Private utilities make up over 60% of all the buried infrastructure in the United States. So, to ensure you don’t strike a buried line, it’s crucial that you hire a private utility locator in addition to contacting 811.
Since GPRS’ founding in 2001, our SIM-certified Project Managers have achieved and maintained a 99.8%+ accuracy rating when conducting utility locating services. Using ground penetrating radar (GPR) scanning, and electromagnetic (EM) locating technologies, we provide a comprehensive view of the built world beneath your feet. In this way, we complement the work done by 811 to ensure the success of your project.
Redefining Utility Mapping with SiteMap®
SiteMap® could be purpose-built to fulfill the CGA’s desire for improved utility mapping services.
Powered by GPRS’ unmatched accuracy in utility locating, precision concrete scanning & imaging, 3D laser scanning, video pipe inspection, and leak detection, SiteMap® is a single source of truth for you and your team to use to ensure you are all on the same page throughout your project’s lifecycle.
What sets SiteMap® apart from other GIS and GIS-adjacent systems is GPRS’ ability to take all of the data we collect on your job site and layer, map, and incorporate ALL of it to give you comprehensive plan views, CAD drawings, and/or fully integrated above and below ground 3D BIM models and walkthroughs of any part of your site, campus, or facility.
From skyscrapers to sewer lines, GPRS Intelligently Visualizes The Built World® to keep your projects on time, on budget, and most importantly, safe.
What can we help you visualize? Click the links below to schedule a service or request a quote today.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does GPRS offer same day private utility locating?
Yes, in many cases, our professional Project Managers can respond rapidly to emergency same-day private utility locating service calls on your job site. With over 500 Project Managers strategically stationed across every major market in the U.S., GPRS always offers our industry-leading utility locating services near you.
What are the benefits of underground utility mapping?
Mapping your subsurface infrastructure saves you time and money during construction, repair, and regular maintenance projects. By knowing exactly where every utility is located, you avoid having to waste time on excessive potholing. And of course, accurate subsurface infrastructure information helps mitigate subsurface damage during groundbreaking activities.
What type of information does GPRS provide when performing a utility locate?
Our Project Managers will flag and/or paint our findings directly on the surface, depending on your specific needs. This method of communication is the most accurate form of marking when excavation is expected to commence within a few days of service.
GPRS also uses a global positioning system (GPS) to collect data points of findings. Our in-house Mapping & Modeling team uses this data to generate a plan, .KMZ file, satellite overlay, or CAD file to permanently preserve results for future use.
Finally, you receive a SiteMap® Personal subscription with every GPRS Utility Locate. Click here to learn more.