The Common Ground Alliance (CGA) published the 2019 edition of the annual DIRT Report at the end of October. This marks the sixteenth publication of the report, which serves as a summary and analysis of data entered into the Damage Information Reporting Tool (DIRT) during the previous year. The report offers accounting and analysis of damages to buried infrastructure in the U.S. and Canada.
The publication of the DIRT Report regularly sparks conversations about the rate of utility damages, the root causes, and the effectiveness of damage prevention education. This year’s report is no different, showing an upward trend in U.S. and Canadian utility damages for the fifth straight year with over 500,00 reported events, near misses, and damages.
The leading root cause of damages was once again ‘No notification made to One Call center or 811’, representing nearly 29.1% of total damage reports. ‘Excavator failed to maintain clearance after verifying marks’ came in as the second leading cause with 16.7% of total reports.
The percentage of damages caused by the lack of locate request (29.1%) increased for the third straight year, rising from 24% of damages in the 2017 report and 26% in 2018. This is a particularly worrying statistic considering increased promotion of ‘Call before you dig’ initiatives. The telecommunications industry was hit especially hard as ‘No locate request’ damages represented 36% of their total facility damages.
In response to leading damage root causes, CGA also publishes “Update Opportunities” to their industry best practices. These updates aim to improve the established best practices in response to trends. In response to the increase in ‘No Locate’ damages, the CGA lists this update opportunity to the One Call Facility Locate request best practice:
Update Opportunity: Consider updating to reflect three-digit dialing (811) which was introduced in 2007, and that electronic notifications have become the predominant method of one call center notices.
Examining ‘No Locate Request’ damages further, the 2019 DIRT Report shows variation in the root cause damage percentages among excavator types. ‘No Locate Request’ damages represented 61% of occupant excavator damages and only 15% of contractor damages, for example. Excavator type sorting also shows the contractors are once again the leading excavator type in the percentage total damages.
A notable addition to the 2019 edition of the DIRT Report is the measurement of the Societal Impacts of damages. Societal impacts count both direct and indirect costs of damages. From the report:
Direct costs would include repair of the damaged utility and restoration of service to impacted customers. Indirect costs include but are not limited to property damage, medical expenses, loss of commerce while businesses are interrupted or evacuated, time spent in traffic due to road closures or detours, increased insurance premiums, litigation costs and reputational damage.
In theory, measuring the total societal impact widens our perspective by presenting a more comprehensive view of the cascading effects of utility damages. Though an ambitious and valuable addition to the report, there is difficulty in pinning down an accurate estimate with a data set so broad:
Green Analytics reviewed DIRT data, research from Canada and the United Kingdom, and publicly available data from PHMSA for U.S. natural gas and liquid pipeline damages to produce an estimated range of $400 million to $1.985 billion for direct repair costs and indirect costs ranging from $12 to $60 billion. Taking the medians of the range of direct and indirect costs produces a best overall estimate of $30 billion in total societal costs from damages to buried facilities.
Regardless of methodology, even the lowest end of the societal impact estimates paints a clear picture that taking actions to prevent utility damages is as important as ever.