How SIM Standards Support Accurate Utility Mapping

How SIM Standards Support Accurate Utility Mapping

Damage prevention experts believe that GIS-based utility mapping is the best tool for mitigating the risk of subsurface damage.

In the Common Ground Alliance’s 2022 DIRT Report, CGA President & CEO Sarah K. Magruder Lyle wrote that “GIS-based mapping of assets and communication are urgently needed to improve locating timelines and accuracy.”

“Our ability to advance as an industry depends on our willingness to adapt legacy processes to the demands of modern-day damage prevention,” Magruder Lyle said. “The opportunity exists to create meaningful change, but only if we meet this moment with the necessary urgency.”

Utility mapping helps facility owners and managers avoid costly and potentially dangerous subsurface damage, but not all utility mapping solutions are created equal.

It takes multiple locating technologies, extensive training, and a repeatable process to ensure that a utility locating company can provide you with high quality data near you. And that data is only as good as the platform through which you access, manipulate, and share the information with your team members and your subcontractors.

Through their adherence to the Subsurface Investigation Methodology (SIM), and their signature ability to tailor our services to meet your needs, GPRS Project Managers ensure the success and safety of your project by providing you with the most accurate, actionable utility locating and mapping data possible.

Subsurface utilities illustrated with colored lines on an overhead image of a campus.
Utility mapping helps avoid costly and dangerous subsurface damage by informing excavators where they can and can't safely dig.

Utility Mapping Explained

Utility mapping is the process of locating buried utilities with technology such as ground penetrating radar (GPR) and electromagnetic (EM) locating, then plotting that data out to create a comprehensive picture of the subsurface infrastructure on a property or campus.

GIS (geographic information system) technology allows for the capture, storage, review, and display of data related to positions on the Earth’s surface. A GIS-based utility mapping solution gives you the most accurate, reliable data imaginable, ensuring you can avoid costly and potentially hazardous subsurface damage when breaking ground.

GPR and EM locating are the most widely used tools for precision utility mapping because they provide the most accurate and detailed view of your facility or campus’ buried infrastructure.

GPR is a non-destructive detection and imaging technology which allows experienced operators to identify subsurface elements either underground or within a surface such as concrete. It can detect both metallic and non-metallic objects, giving it a wide range of applications including locating electrical conduit, steam pipes, telecommunications lines, gas & oil lines, water lines, and sewer & storm pipes.

A GPR scanner emits a radio wave into a structure or surface, and that wave reacts with any material it encounters to create a series of hyperbolas on a GPR reading. Experienced utility locating technicians interpret this reading to determine the type of embedded material located and the location of each item.

GPR scans can be affected by external factors such as ground and soil conditions, proper use of the equipment, and correct interpretations of the readings. But in general, it is an extremely accurate technology able to penetrate up to 24” for concrete scanning purposes and eight feet into grass, soil, asphalt, or concrete for utility locating.

EM locating compliments GPR by detecting electromagnetic signals radiating from metallic pipes and cables.

These signals are either emitted naturally from live electrical cables or emitted by a transmitter through a known line. The receiver picks up this signal to determine the location and route of the buried utility.

By using both GPR and EM locating, professional utility locating companies like GPRS create the redundancy needed to verify their findings.

Industry-leading Methodology

SIM is the industry-leading process that makes GPRS Project Managers experts at conducting utility locates, concrete scans, leak detections, and video (CCTV) pipe inspections.

The SIM standard specifies that a professional utility locating contractor must utilize multiple locating technologies – such as GPR and EM locating – to create redundancy and repeatability in the results of their subsurface investigations.

All GPRS Project Managers must become SIM certified to work in the field. This process includes a minimum of 320 hours of field training and 80 hours of classroom training, where trainees encounter real-world scenarios that arm them with the knowledge and experience to tackle whatever they may face in the real world.

For comparison, the national standard for certification (ASNT SNT-TC-1A) states that a minimum of 60 hours of practical application coaching and 8 hours of classroom training be completed for a utility locating specialist to achieve NDT Level 1 certification.

But SIM is not just a training program for utility locators.

SIM addresses a step-by-step approach to collecting subsurface data to ensure that the results are repeatable and accurate. SIM practitioners must follow a checklist that is designed to ensure optimal results for every situation encountered in the field.

It’s our commitment to SIM that has led GPRS Project Managers to achieving and maintaining a 99.8%+ rate of accuracy on the over 500,000 utility locating and concrete scanning projects we’ve completed since our founding in 2001.

Your Data at Your Fingertips

The results of a GPRS utility locate are geo-located and uploaded instantly into SiteMap® (patent pending), our industry-leading, cloud-based infrastructure mapping solution where you can store, review, and securely share your vital facility data with anyone, anytime, anywhere.

SiteMap® is the culmination of everything GPRS has learned about utility locating and mapping. It could have been purpose-built to fulfill the CGA’s desire for improved utility mapping services, as it combines the unparalleled accuracy of our SIM-certified Project Managers’ utility locates with a seamless ability to review and share that information with everyone involved on your project.

SiteMap® is a single source of truth for your project data, enabling you to put the right information into the right hands, right when they need it.

A man on the left uses an electromagnetic locator, and a woman on the right uses a ground penetrating radar scanner.
GPRS Project Managers tailor our services to meet your needs, ensuring you can avoid costly and potentially dangerous subsurface damage.

A Collaborative Approach

While SIM underpins GPRS’ process for locating utilities, scanning concrete, and detecting leaks, it is not what sets our Project Managers apart from other utility locating specialists.

Our “secret sauce” is our ability to tailor our services to meet your needs, innovating on a job-by-job basis to keep you in the driver’s seat of your projects.

This was illustrated when we partnered with the University of Toledo to fully map the buried infrastructure on the 1,037-acre campus.

You can learn more about that project here.

SiteMap® also represents our belief in putting your data to use for you. By putting all your infrastructure data at your fingertips, you can eliminate mistakes caused by subsurface damage.

From skyscrapers to sewer lines, GPRS Intelligently Visualizes The Built World® to keep your projects on time, on budget, and safe.

What can we help you visualize? Click the links below to schedule a service or request a quote today!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is utility mapping?

Utility mapping is the process of locating buried utilities with technology such as ground penetrating radar and electromagnetic (EM) locating, then plotting that data out to create a comprehensive picture of the subsurface infrastructure on a property or campus.

What are the benefits of underground utility mapping?

An accurate, updated map of your subsurface infrastructure allows you to know where you can, and perhaps more importantly, can’t – excavate. By knowing where buried utilities are located, you can avoid costly and potentially dangerous subsurface damage that would otherwise derail your project, obliterate your budget and reputation, and put the safety of your team members in jeopardy.

What do I get when GPRS locates and maps my utilities?

Our Project Managers flag and paint our findings directly on the surface where you intend to break ground. This method of communication is the most accurate form of marking when excavation is expected to commence within a few days of surface.

GPRS also uses a global positioning system (GPS) to collect data points of findings. We use this data to generate a plan, .KMZ file, satellite overlay, and/or CAD file to permanently preserve results for future use.

Finally, every GPRS utility locate comes with a complimentary SiteMap® Personal subscription, so you can review, annotate, and share your vital facility information with your team. Click here to learn more.