Inspect What You Expect!

(Editor’s Note: This is the fifth in a series of articles addressing misperceptions that exist about Subsurface Utility Engineering.)

Walt Childs, former Florida DOT District Utilities Administrator, says this a lot: “It’s true you know, if you expect people to do good work, you have to inspect what they do.”

But, what does this have to do with ASCE 38-02? Or for that matter, what does ASCE 38-02 have to do with damage prevention?

Well, it works like this. There is an engineering practice called Subsurface Utility Engineering, often referred to as just SUE. It is well documented that the proper application of SUE reduces deaths, injuries, release of product, and damage to utilities on public works projects.

As the use of SUE has increased over the past 25 years or so, the number of companies claiming to provide SUE services has also grown. In a sense, this is a good thing. However, from the very begin-ning, many of these companies have been unaware of the proper application of SUE, as have many project owners. Hence, ASCE 38-02 was developed to provide some guidance as to what engineers collecting and depicting existing subsurface utility information should do and what project owners should expect them to do.

ASCE 38-02 is entitled, Standard Guideline for the Collection and Depiction of Existing Subsurface Utility Data. It was developed by the American Society of Civil Engineers in 2003 and adopted by the Federal Highway Administration that same year. ASCE 38-02 does the following things:

• Defines the practice of obtaining utility location and attribute data for subsurface utilities through various means and methods
• Depicts the methods and professionally judged reliability of that data within reports, plans, engineering drawings, other documents, or databases
• Addresses technologies and processes that are available to obtain that data; how that data can be conveyed to users; and the respective roles of engineers and project owners in obtaining, communicating, and effectively using the data
• Assists engineers, project owners, utility owners, and constructors in understanding the classification of the reliability, certainty, and quality of utility data, as well as evaluating and managing risks associated with the data

ASCE 38-02 is presently being updated by members of an ASCE committee comprised of a balanced group of individuals with varied backgrounds, including professionals experienced in subsurface utility engineering, geology, geophysics, surveying, computer-aided design, geographic information systems, highway design, right-ofway, geotechnical engineering, and utility design.

The updated edition of ASCE 38, which is expected to be completed in 2017, will include the following new features:

Information on more broadly populating the “z” component of locational data
• A recommendation for a sealed “utility report” to accompany any mapping deliverables
• A new section on utility attributes
• More appendix and commentary information, neither of which will be part of the standard, but rather will provide supplemental guidance for interpretation and use

ASCE 38-02 sets forth the standards that providers of SUE services should strive to deliver and that
project owners should request, expect to obtain, and inspect to assure they get what they expect.

Next Issue: What Are Utility Quality Levels?

C. Paul Scott is Cardno’s National Utilities Liaison. He is retired from the Federal Highway  Administration and now promotes Cardno’s utility coordination and subsurface utility engineering activities with state DOTs and other public and private clients.

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