At Irth’s User Summit, Sam Hall, Vice President of the Damage Prevention Institute for Common Ground Alliance, spoke to our attendees about why now is the time to take unprecedented action to reduce the top causes of damages.
Irth and Common Ground Alliance are aligned in our goals to:
- Prevent damages to underground utility infrastructure
- Protect those who live and work near critical network infrastructure
- Enhance the resiliency of the services that people and businesses depend on daily
- Maintain data integrity and quality
- Collaborate within the damage prevention industry to achieve our common goals
CGA’s DIRT Report
CGA represents 16 stakeholder groups who are all interested in damage prevention. CGA offers a variety of programs for these stakeholder groups to come together to reduce damage to critical network infrastructure. Stakeholders can submit data about damages or near misses in the Damage Information Reporting Tool (DIRT). DIRT data is self-reported, so it does not represent every damage that occurred across the country.
CGA then analyzes the submitted data annually to provide insights, best practices, and recommendations to the damage prevention community.
This analysis of damages to buried infrastructure in the U.S. and Canada is reported in the DIRT Report and available on an interactive dashboard. This work represents the most comprehensive accounting and analysis of damages available, making it possible to draw some conclusions about what’s happening broadly across the country and where the damage prevention industry should focus our efforts collectively.
CGA’s DIRT Report Highlights
Did you know six root cases are responsible for 76% of the damage to critical network infrastructure?
Other highlights from the latest DIRT Report include:
- For the first time, excavation/construction was the top reporting source.
- The most damaged facilities are telecom and natural gas.
- Telecom work caused the most damages.
- Damages are flat or increasing based on statistical analysis.
- It will be critical to reduce the upward damage trend to reach a 50% reduction in damages in 5 years (by 2028).
U.S. damage counts from consistently reporting organizations have increased in the past three years.
The data shows a 9.34% increase in damages over 811 center transmissions and a 12.35% increase in damages per construction spending. And with more than a half a trillion dollars allocated to new infrastructure in the U.S. over the next five years, we know those numbers will continue to increase.
Top 6 Root Causes of Damages According to the DIRT Report
The damage prevention industry needs to focus on the top six root causes and address them through unprecedented action to reduce damages by 50% in the next 5 years. Year over year, these root causes are responsible for 76% of all damages:
- No notification made to 811 center
- Facility not marked due to locator error
- Excavator failed to maintain clearance after verifying the marks
- Marked inaccurately due to locator error
- Improper excavation practice not listed elsewhere
- Excavator dug prior to verifying marks by potholing
Improve the Quality of Data to Make Better Conclusions
The consistency in damage drivers allows the damage prevention industry to focus our efforts and measure progress. Some of these catch-all root causes may mask more complex issues at play. For example, no notification made to the 811 center could be caused by any number of things. Why was no call made? What’s going on?
Late Locates: A Current and Emerging Crisis
The DIRT Report analyzed data from seven states with mandatory positive response. Here are a few insights:
- As many as 56% of tickets receive late or no positive response, meaning work cannot legally start.
- Telecommunications and water/sewer operators have higher late response rates.
- Telecommunications work is most impacted by late responses.
- Some operators/locators mark sites on time but delay updating positive response systems.
- Excavators report inaccurate status codes, including those indicating sites are marked when they are not.
This reality of late or no positive response erodes faith in the 811 system.
Where Do We Go from Here? The Path to 50 in 5
The damage prevention industry must reverse the established upward trends identified in the DIRT Report to achieve 50% reduction in damages over the next five years, including:
- Move beyond catch-all root causes
The damage prevention industry needs to get more granular with our data to understand why people are making the decisions they’re making. By reviewing the internal data, we can pinpoint deeper root causes.
- Invest in potholing to save on damages
Project owners must review and enhance contracts to include specific compensation for potholing. If an excavator isn’t getting compensated for potholing, changes aren’t likely that they will do it.
- Timely and accurate positive response
Late and inaccurate positive responses undermine the damage prevention process and the faith in the program.
- Collaborate among stakeholder groups
We must work together, whether at regional CGA events, between companies when you’re working on a project, or with municipalities.
- Restore confidence in the 811 system
The 811 system must work as designed so people don’t feel they are using a system that will fail them more than 50% of the time.
- Prioritize tolerance zone safety
Proper excavation in the tolerant zone is how you prevent damages.
- Enhance facility maps to GIS grade
CGA is pushing facility owners to improve maps and records through some of the feedback loops like Irth. Gopher State One Call, Minnesota’s solution, is a good example of improving maps and records. They partnered with the Minnesota Geospatial Advisory Council on the Minnesota Utilities Mapping Project.
- Allocate sufficient locating and marking resources
Facility owners and operators must sync with procurement departments to prioritize safety and buy resources to provide best-in-class damage prevention programs.
- Utilizing contract structures for better locating and excavating outcomes
Contract structures are perhaps the biggest and most important component of reducing damage across the board according to Hall.
- Ensure effective enforcement of damage prevention laws and regulations
Some states enforce damage prevention laws and regulations quite well, and they see lower damage rates. All states must make enforcement a priority.
The Future of Damage Prevention
From the Damage Prevention Institute to a U.S. damage prevention Index and innovative solutions, Common Ground Alliance and Irth are committed to supporting the damage prevention industry on the path of 50 in five. Tune in to Sam Hall’s full presentation to learn all the data from the latest DIRT Report.