One of the problems the locating trade faces is the perception that our job is easy. From the outside looking in, an excavator contacts the One Call center and within a day or so, accurate markings appear at their job site. DIRT reporting bears out that in the majority of cases when an excavator contacts the One Call, no damage occurs.
As a private locator, excavators often say things to me like, “I want to make sure there’s nothing here”, or “can you tell me if there’s anything over there?”
This reasoning assumes that simply having locates performed ensures that no damage will occur. Locating instruments are deemed infallible and the technicians who operate them are deemed to have total command of an unseen underground environment.
A few days ago, while remarking a job site at a water treatment plant, I came across one of their employees about to place a post for a new street sign. Although he had no locate of his own, he observed the marks I’d placed for the contractor and selected a spot he believed to be clear – a spot directly between corridor marks placed for both communications and electric structures vital to most of the plant. The spot he had chosen was a strip of grass about 12 inches from the marks for either of those facilities. “I thought we’d be okay if we just went between them,” he explained as I moved in to stop him.
As I regularly explain to my customers, locating technicians can never be 100% sure what is underground until it is exposed. Rather, we are like detectives assembling clues with which to build a case. We ask questions and assemble facts until we have gathered enough evidence to point to a conclusion, but there are almost always parts of the truth that are obscured.
Sometimes, we feel like we have spotted a killer standing over a victim holding the murder weapon. They have a good motive, tons of opportunity, and no alibi. The case is a no-brainer. Other times, we look to have a good suspect, but we cannot really explain why he would not have tracked mud back to his car.
When an excavator asks me to “just make sure there’s nothing there”, I always remind them that I cannot do that. What I can do is help them mitigate their risk by checking. “The best I can do is tell you that all the clues add up to your being clear,” I say. “We’re building a case.”
In the end, only excavation will prove it one way or another.
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.
THE OPINIONS EXPRESSED IN THIS ARTICLE ARE THOSE OF THE AUTHOR. dp-PRO WELCOMES AND ENCOURAGES ARTICLES AND CORRESPONDENCE FROM ALL POINTS OF VIEW.