A few weeks ago, I was reminded of a story that I read as a child titled “The Ants and the Grasshopper.” The short of the story is that the ants worked hard storing food and preparing for winter while the grasshopper waited until it was too late and was ill prepared for the long and barren winter that laid ahead. You may ask yourself what a child’s fable has to do with our work in damage prevention, and I would remind you that the moral of the story was to work now for what you need in the future. In other words, prepare upfront for what you’ll need later. I believe it’s this important tip that can help prevent damages by being prepared with the knowledge of what might conflict with your project.

While each state’s One Call may differ in what they offer, many if not all states provide a Design Stage Locate. The Design Stage Locate request requires all member companies with facilities within the specified area to provide maps showing the approximate geographic location of their utility. The purpose of the Design Stage Locate request is for architects, engineers and others who are in the design or planning stage of a project to determine what existing infrastructure may be present at the location where they are planning additional infrastructure or other networks. These are requests where excavation will not take place in the immediate future so there is no real burden on the locators in the field to put down paint during the design stage unless pre-coordinated with the utility. The benefit of getting a Design Stage Locate request is that you give yourself the information necessary during the planning stage to reduce or eliminate any surprises during the execution phase of the project. We’ve all had projects that were delayed during excavation because utilities were in the way. Having the knowledge of existing facilities upfront at the engineering stage provides an opportunity to have the facilities moved ahead of time or to change or design the project around the existing infrastructure.

Planning for a successful job is more than calling in a locate and going out and completing the work. Also, keep in mind that not all jobs require this type of upfront planning. You shouldn’t need a Design Stage Locate request to plant a tree or set a stop sign. However, with a new utility, it would be super beneficial to have an idea of what’s currently in the ground before you start your design. Remember that private facilities are not members of the One Call and it’s important to work with the municipality, property manager or resident engineer for your project to identify all privately owned facilities like sewer and water laterals and private lighting, amongst others. Understanding the existing field conditions can help the job run smoother, on time and on budget.

We should also remember that planning ahead doesn’t always lead to a successful and event-free job. Once the design is completed, the mapping information should then be passed down from the engineer or designer to the foreman and crew in the field before the first shovel is put into the ground. By scheduling a Joint Meet and meeting with all member companies prior to the start of excavation, a review and comparison of the maps with all involved parties could help show what would be expected to be marked in the field. When the excavation crew has the opportunity to review the maps for the gas company prior to their work, it’s easier to confirm that at least what is on the map, is marked on the job site and any deviations can be identified. During the jobsite walkdown, if the crew finds a gas main on the map that’s not marked in the field, it’s an opportunity for a phone call to be made to verify if the main was abandoned or should have, in fact, been marked. Knowing this upfront could help save lives. Insightful information such as this also saves time, prevents damages, and reduces costly utility repair and third-party damage claims.

Recognize that maps of existing infrastructure in the wrong hands could also lead to bigger problems. You should always check with your regulatory and compliance as well as cyber and corporate security teams to ensure that the information being provided doesn’t violate any existing laws or requirements about sharing facility information or locations. It should also be understood that the maps provided are only for the situation in which they were requested. Printed or shared maps cannot depict future situations 10 years, 10 months or sometimes, even 10 weeks out. Utility companies are constantly changing the landscape and facilities are abandoned and installed every day. It’s important to reach out for current maps and ensure that the process for requesting locates is followed and confirmed prior to excavation. Another opportunity for upfront information is through a subsurface utility or ground penetrating radar survey of the site to help identify any unmapped or additional unidentified obstacles.

The Design Stage Locate request, while beneficial in designing and executing our projects, should not take the place of face-to-face communication on the job site. The process of sharing maps helps initiate open communication and should always be followed up with a Joint Meet prior to excavation, followed by regular meets during the course of long, extended and/or complicated projects. Keeping the lines of communication open helps the excavator to understand what’s present and allows the locator to communicate any changes or special instructions needed to safely excavate around facilities. Incorporating the process of gathering information upfront during the design stage and opening the lines of communication can help keep the project online, under budget and most importantly, safe and damage free.

Kelley Heinz is a Senior Claims Case Manager and Damage Prevention for ComEd with 25 years of experience in the industry. Kelley also sits on the JULIE Board of Directors and is an Enforcement Panel Member for 811Chicago. She can be reached at kelley.heinz@comed.com.