Damage Prevention “Ambassador” App is making a Huge Difference in Underground Safety.

Mississippi Operations Supervisor, Doug Gordon visits a worksite in Columbus, MS.

Federal regulations require natural gas pipeline companies to conduct continuing surveillance of their facilities to prevent damage. One safety leader in the industry has strengthened their approach in capturing surveillance documentation that enables them to measure the effectiveness of their employees’ outreach with excavators.

In 2019, Atmos Energy rolled out the Damage Prevention Ambassador application. During year one of utilizing the app, the natural gas distribution company documented a 7.1% reduction in overall third-party damages to their system across eight states. Atmos Energy Ambassador stops have topped the 41,000 mark in all eight states and over 1,800 employees are participating.

“The adoption of the app has been even faster than anticipated and the results clearly indicate improved public safety,” says David Raymond, Operations Manager with Atmos Energy in Lafayette, LA. “Damages in my home state of Louisiana have been reduced by more than 23% from the previous calendar year through more than 4,800 Ambassador stops involving more than 300 employees.” The Ambassador Program utilizes handheld technology with employees who use the system daily while performing their duties.

Employees engaged as Ambassadors primarily drive a company vehicle and are typically in the field for a significant portion of their day. The purpose of the program is to proactively engage with excavators digging near Atmos Energy’s infrastructure. When Ambassadors identify an active excavation site, they can pull over and launch the app to begin documenting the location. The app logs the GPS coordinates of the site and allows the user to capture 811 active ticket numbers, photos of the jobsite, and educational literature left with the excavator.

“The app has several questions that relate to the stop such as the address, date, location and time that are pre-populated by the GPS coordinates identified in the app,” David said. “When we engage with an excavator, we inform them we have facilities in the area and ask if they need anything from us for their project. We can confirm if our facilities have been marked correctly in the scope of the locate ticket request and if excavation is planned within the tolerance zone and requires hand or soft digging methods to safely expose the facilities.”

There were more than 20,000 stops in 2020 where we didn’t drop off educational literature, because those excavators were doing everything according to best practices, the state dig law, and digging with care,” David said.

Ambassadors perform a quick check of our ticket management system and/or the state’s 811 website for an active locate ticket number before exiting their vehicle. If there is no active ticket request found, excavators are supplied with Atmos Energy damage prevention brochures and state 811 center literature.

Reports show at 29% of all stops, employees are finding excavators either do not have a valid 811 locate ticket of their own, their 811 ticket has expired, or their excavation plan includes utilization of mechanized equipment in the tolerance zone without exposing the utilities. Damage prevention educational materials are then provided and if imminent danger exists to the pipeline, stop work authority is granted to the Ambassador on site. The excavator is asked to call or click 811 in addition to cease digging so that a valid 811 ticket request can be made to allow the owner/operators time to mark according to state dig law.

“There were more than 20,000 stops in 2020 where we didn’t drop off educational literature, because those excavators were doing everything according to best practices, the state dig law, and digging with care,” David said. “We sincerely thank the person we are interacting with for excavating safely whether they are a professional excavator or a homeowner.

“We’ve been performing continuing surveillance as required by federal regulation for decades,” David said. “We are required by statute to prevent damage to our underground facilities, to identify threats and the Ambassador app enables us to document when, where and how.”

Contact David at david.raymond@atmosenergy.com to learn more about the Atmos Energy Damage Prevention Ambassador App.

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