Walking in Her Boots – A Day in an Urban Locator’s Boots

THE MORNING SUN MAKES its appearance over the horizon and Paula is already getting herself and her equipment ready for a day of locating. With the morning traffic congestion and the extra time it takes to find parking for the work van, Paula knows the challenges she’ll face today in the big city are much more difficult than the ones she’s faced in the past doing locating in a suburban area.

Paula has been working as a Damage Prevention Technician (DPT) at PVS for six years. She first started locating in a sparse suburban area and recently transferred into the big city to help serve growing customers’ needs. When Paula decided to transfer into this new urban area, she knew the distance was closer to her home, but other than the distance, Paula didn’t consider how the new location would impact her day-to-day activities.

Only a couple days into operating in her new work area Paula already understood that jobs in the city just take longer to drive to and complete. Time consumption hurts efficiency and is the locator’s enemy. When Paula plans her drive from job to job, she knows getting lost or stuck at intersections with no left turns, or not finding anywhere to park, can literally take money out of her pockets at the end of the day.

Paula pulls up to her first job of the day and checks parking signs carefully. There are so many tow zones in the city and parking in an incorrect zone can ruin an entire workday or get her into an ugly confrontation with a resident. She gets to work locating the utility lines and realizes she needs to capture some markings on the roadway. Paula makes a call to her supervisor so she can get traffic safety assistance.

Paula turns on her van’s warning lights and high-power traffic directors. Cars whizz by as she waits for an opening to lay down some pylons. Her supervisor keeps an eye on potential traffic hazards while Paula works quickly, but cautiously. The sun catches the reflective strips on her vest providing advance warning to motorists. Traffic is heavy with aggressive drivers and the pylons don’t make Paula feel any safer as cars race by. There is so much movement and noise on the street, it’s easy to become distracted and slip up. But Paula focuses and completes the locate without encountering any safety near-misses.

At the next job site, the utility corridor is congested with infrastructure and Paula has difficulty distinguishing between the various utilities. She looks at each utility record, including multiple utility sub-maps. Paula then tries to find a physical connection point for the utilities; unfortunately, connection points can be easily hidden in urban centers and if a tonable connection cannot be made on any of the utilities to either match or identify new infrastructure, then Paula will need to call her supervisor again. Paula starts to realize she may need Ground Penetrating Radar, assistance from the utility, or potentially a hydrovac truck to visibly identify the utilities.

At last, Paula finds her connection point. It’s paramount she identifies the lines correctly to the customer’s plant to prevent damages. Pedestrians walk by Paula barely noticing the markings on the ground; one marking mistake can leave these people not only without services but with increased service costs. Paula recalls a few best practises from her Canadian Common Ground Alliance DPT training and her PVS Best in Class training. She wipes the sweat from her forehead as she confidently identifies and marks another utility line.

Paula finds that the access to the plant at her next job site is locked up. It’s common in the city to have difficulty accessing plants to connect and confirm locates, especially when conduits enter a building below grade. Paula places a call to the utility company to get her needed access. While she waits, a colleague phones to review a couple jobs Paula completed recently as part of the company’s quality assurance program.

This call happens a couple times a month and the conversation is brief, but covers some positive feedback and identifies some opportunities for Paula to improve her efficiency and accuracy. As one of a few women in her locating team, Paula appreciates the mentoring and connection as she navigates her career in a male dominated industry.

Soon Paula gets admittance to the locked plant and she starts unpacking her locate set. Moments in and she realizes she’s forgotten a piece of her personal protection equipment (PPE). She packs everything back up to retrieve her PPE from the van. In her old jurisdiction she may have left her equipment without worry, but she isn’t going to take the risk in this neighborhood. Equipment is expensive and Paula is responsible for ensuring her equipment is accounted for.

At the end of the day, Paula packs up her equipment once more and is relieved to see she’s only 15 minutes behind schedule. She sighs with satisfaction knowing she has accurately marked all the utilities today at her assigned sites. The excavators will have all the information they need to complete their projects safely. Paula knows the vital role she plays in keeping excavators, the public and infrastructure safe, while ensuring Ontario’s infrastructure projects keep moving.

PVS is one of several businesses in OEC’s dynamic portfolio that participates in and serves Canada’s energy and infrastructure industry. If you have questions or comments about locating and utility services in dense urban areas, email office@PVSlocates.com.

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