Two of the leading causes for underground utility strikes in the U.S. as described in the Common Ground Alliance’s 2022 DIRT Report are unmarked or inaccurately marked utilities due to locator error. These inaccuracies cause mistakes and delays, can lead to serious injuries, and can bust budgets for the general contractors, excavators, and facility managers involved in construction, expansion, and renovation projects.
Nearly 34,000 underground utility strikes each year are caused by locator error: meaning the utility locating company either failed to mark or mismarked subsurface utilities. Statistically, those errors are responsible for 24% of all underground utility damage.
Ongoing issue of Incorrect As-Builts
A contributing and ongoing issue that general contractors, excavators, and facility managers face on many of the projects they work on are the outdated/incomplete public records provided before construction begins. They can cause serious project setbacks and put the teams at a disadvantage from the starting line. As the CGA’s report shows, utilities that are not marked due to incorrect facility records and maps is number nine on the list of root causes for underground utility strikes in 2022, with 3,558 underground utility strikes reported as being caused by inaccurate as-builts.
Among the three of these factors, more than 37,000 utility strikes occur annually.
Whether you’re a general contractor, excavator, or facility manager, it is crucial to reduce or eliminate utility strikes so that your projects can stay on budget, on time, and safe.
A solution that can address these problems and a host of other GIS-related challenges will be discussed in this article because these three challenges all stem from the same root cause; inaccurate underground utility mapping data due to flawed underground utility locating practices.
Increase in Underground Utility Strikes Year Over Year
To reduce and/or eliminate utility strikes caused by these mistakes, in February, the CGA announced its goal to reduce damages to underground facilities by 50% through 2028. With a meaningful goal to strive toward, the industry is discovering new ways to access accurate underground utility data when locates are performed.
Driving the CGA’s initiative and urgency within the industry is a disturbing trend: over the previous three years, utility strikes continue to rise despite a rise in awareness campaigns to notify 811 centers and private utility locating firms before digging occurs. Over that period of 2020-2022, the CGA reported an increase in underground utility strikes by over 2% from 2020-2021 & up over 9% between 2021-2022 as shown in the table below.
With underground utility strikes continuing to increase over the last three years and industry damages over the past 20 years resulting in over 400 deaths, 2,000 injuries, and $60 billion in damage, industry professionals such as Douglas Beck from West Texas Gas are challenging current practices to increase the accuracy of the data being provided to clients. He shared his frustration at the 2023 Texas 811 Damage Prevention Summit.
“When are we going to step up to the challenge of locating lines that we can grab that data, it’s accurate, and we can be right? Because as we all know, we can use any line locator in the world, but until you see that pipe, it's not there. We're locating a signal that has many interferences and stuff, but we're still not stepping on that side. None of those companies that build any line locators have come out with anything new except GPS technology to gather the data… But you can't use that data because you're not sure if the pipe's even there so what's the point? Our first step needs to be accurate locating.”
As Douglas stated, the first step of this process toward reducing damages by 50% through 2028 is by making sure the utility lines being located are mapped accurately and updated regularly so that the next person in the construction process can know without a doubt that they can dig, drill, or trench strike free. Once this layer of the problem is accurately addressed, the focus shifts to the storage of that collected utility data within an easy-to-use underground utility mapping system, so that it can be referenced throughout the entire construction lifecycle by key stakeholders, managers, and contractors.
Utility Mapping Systems Are Only as Accurate as the Data Put Into Them.
Currently however, inaccurate utility data collected in the field by utility locators and uploaded into GIS systems or from as built documentation give a false sense of security to excavators and construction workers because the data is only as accurate as what is located and uploaded in the field. This is causing continued safety risks, project delays, and budget overruns and allowing people to push the trash forward to the next guy on site.
GPRS Market Segment Leader Nate Stair shares how GPRS customers who have used GIS based platforms and as built documentation have experienced accuracy issues in their data similar to those described by Douglas Beck.
“I frequently hear that other platforms are great, except for the accuracy of the data. I have heard of lines being over 30' off, yes, 30 feet!!! Yes, the line was collected, but the accuracy is almost useless. These [GIS] platforms aren't acting as a living, breathing database like SiteMap® being tied to GPRS scanning services provided for them.”
Such accuracy issues have led to the incredible increase in underground utility strikes occurring year over year, which was displayed previously by the CGA graph. With the pressing goal of reduced damages by 50% by 2028, the damage prevention industry has come together around the idea of using underground utility mapping software to help reach this milestone.
GPRS’s utility mapping platform, SiteMap® meets this need to eliminate utility strikes for general contractors, excavators, and facility managers, as it supplys users with an accurate utility mapping platform with the tools and systems in place to view, layer, deconstruct & securely share the data GPRS Project Managers collect in the field and upload into the system.
In the world of underground utility mapping controlling data = controlling damage, and controlling damages controls costs. When the data is accurately located, marked, mapped, and stored in utility mapping software the first time it’s collected, damages on the job can be reduced and workers can go home safe to their families.
The SiteMap® Difference is in the Data:
Utility mapping in GIS systems such as ArcGIS FieldMaps are used by some underground utility locators and GIS professionals to store their utility data after their locate has been completed. The issue that threatens this GIS utility mapping platform, and others like it, is that the data displayed within is only as accurate as the locate that was performed and uploaded by the technician in the field.
This poses a threat because just as Douglas Beck shared, “…you can’t use that data because you’re not sure if the pipes even there, so what’s the point? Our first step needs to be accurate locating.”
That’s why SiteMap® powered by GPRS, is uniquely positioned to help address the inaccurate utility data crisis. All of the data within SiteMap® has been located by a SIM-certified GPRS Project Manager. One might say that SIM, the acronym for Subsurface Investigation Methodology, is the secret to GPRS’s 99.8% accuracy rating in utility locating. And that 99.8% accurate data is directly uploaded into SiteMap®.
SIM mandates the proper equipment, training, and process for locating contractors to achieve the most accurate results. In the last five years, it has an over 99.8% success rate on over 500,000 projects across the U.S. to help ensure the data within SiteMap® is world class. SIM is broken into three main categories. Training, Methodology, & Equipment. SIM training includes one-on-one mentorship, classroom instruction by industry experts, and on-the-job field training for two to three months. The methodology that makes SIM Certified Project Managers so effective and the data they collect and upload into SiteMap® so accurate is a systematic, methodical approach to utility locating that Project Managers perform on each and every project.
This solid, repeatable methodology ensures that each Project Manager can perform the same service and achieve the same results on any project, nationwide. The final piece of what makes data within SiteMap® much more accurate than that offered elsewhere is the equipment used to collect the data. SIM requires the use of multiple forms of technology on each investigation with the most effective and commonly used being Electromagnetic (EM) locators and Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR). This methodology, when rigorously followed, allows Project Managers from GPRS to be the most accurate utility locators in the industry. Which means that the utility locating data within SiteMap® is 99.8% accurate, every time. Regardless of tenure, the application of SIM protocols and consistent training allows each locator to achieve top-notch results, so projects can be strike-free for general contractors, excavators, and facility managers, while remaining on time, on budget, and most importantly, safe.
To learn more about how you can wield the power of accurate utility mapping data within SiteMap® to eliminate project downtime, reworks, and damages on your jobsites, sign up for your complimentary SiteMap® Personal Subscription, today!
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