Locating – Buckle Up

The CGA Best Practices includes an unusual item within Chapter Four, the section dealing with Locating and Marking. Number 17 among the Best Practices is “Forecasting/Planning for Predictable Workload Fluctuations.” The Practice Statement immediately following that heading reads, “A plan is developed for managing unpredictable fluctuations.”

Notice the juxtaposition of the words “predictable” and “unpredictable”. I guess what the committee was saying was you can predict that things will be unpredictable. Be ready.

The last sentence of the practice includes the words “the practice does not limit the number of One Call requests from excavators.” That is unambiguous. Excavators are going to call in as much as they want, and you are statutorily required to serve them. Figure it out.

I have written before including in “White Lines and Whoppers” (Winter, 2017) about the challenges this poses for the locating industry and how our excavating partners can help us provide the highest level of service to them – including the judicious use of white lining and the need to be economical with locating requests, ensuring you take only what you need to preserve resources for other excavator stakeholders.

That said, I am buckling in for a wild ride in 2021. Last February, I was anticipating a busier than usual construction season due to subjective observations of the world around me. I’m in the upper Midwest and 2019’s weather had been hard on excavators which seemed to have created a small backlog of projects. The stock market was surging, and I was having a lot of conversations with contractors who were bracing for an unusually busy 2020.

Then came the pandemic. Shutdowns were ordered and projects were cancelled or delayed. Like many small businesses, my locating firm limped through early 2020 assisted by PPP. Second quarter revenue was down by over a third from the previous year. Late in the season, as work began to pick up again, there were obvious changes brought on by COVID-19. Homeowner-driven work was way up. People trapped at home were using vacation money to build decks, dig swimming pools, and buy landscaping. Drive through testing stations springing up in parking lots meant the driving of stakes for tents, as did weddings and graduations suddenly moved outdoors. By year end, it seemed that locating, at least for my company, was back on track.

Now President Biden is pushing forward with an almost two trillion-dollar stimulus package including direct payment to individuals and families as well as funds earmarked for use by state and local governments. That is a staggering amount of money. Larry Summers, U.S. Treasury Secretary under President Clinton and a top economic adviser to President Obama, recently wrote in an Op-Ed to the Washington Post, “Stimulus measures of the magnitude contemplated are steps into the unknown.” Which brings us back to 4.17 – and planning for unpredictable workload fluctuations.

Last Friday I met a drilling contractor onsite. As usual, the topic turned to COVID-19 and how it impacted our businesses in 2020. After reflecting on the shutdowns and deferred work caused by the pandemic, he revealed that December 2020 and January 2021 had been his busiest in history. I noted that my own company, although not yet setting records, had enjoyed an unusually busy January.

Regardless of what the long-term future brings, Washington is about to turn on the money tap and I am buckling up for a very hectic 2021. After last year’s early doldrums, I wouldn’t mind a little fluctuation in my workload.

Christopher Koch is a training consultant and President of ZoneOne Locating. He is past president of Nulca and worked on both the 2009 and 2015 revisions to the Nulca Professional Competency Standard. He can be reached by email at Christopherkoch@ live.com or on Twitter @kochauthor.


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