Locating For Life: A Perspective from Georgia

Underground utility locating is considered the second line of defense in damage prevention, with the first line being the One Call (811) process. Facility damage is reduced to less than 1% when 811 is called prior to utility locates. Locating underground utilities accurately and exercising reasonable care by exposing the facility before using mechanized equipment is also vital to damage prevention (shared responsibility).

Georgia, like most states, has enforcement for excavation. The “Marking Standard Rule” specifically governs how underground utilities shall be marked. Safety should be the number one priority when the locating process commences. For many years, the role of locate technicians has been much like that of an athlete who must face the challenge of outside elements including rain, heat, humidity, cold, snow and ice to achieve the objective.

The locating industry can sometimes be very stressful and to do the job without damages requires skill, determination, dedication and commitment. There are a few programs designed to help inspire and motivate locate technicians to be intentional about improving and perfecting their craft. For example, the International Locate Rodeo, now based in Texas, was originally held for 15 years in Georgia. Locate technicians come from all over the world to put their talents and skills on display in this unique competition to be labelled “the best.”

Georgia811 developed, designed and implemented a program known as “Locate Excellence,” chaired by Holly Files. The goal of the program is to recognize the achievements of individuals in the utility locating profession and to foster an environment of mutual respect among all stakeholders. Much like the Olympics, which have several levels of achievement (Gold, Silver and Bronze), the requirements for the Locate Excellence program are no accidents and missed time for 1 month (Bronze), 3 months (Silver), 9 months (Gold) and 12 months (Platinum).

Continuous efforts are made by stakeholders in the industry to formalize a vehicle to improve the general level of locate competency and evaluate skills based on observations and written competency exams.

“Locating for Life” is my philosophy on locating, something I picked up when I participated in a “Relay for Life” for the American Red Cross years ago. It emphasizes the importance of locating as a profession. It is important that locators are trained well to locate underground utilities accurately. Although locate technicians do little to no excavation themselves, their job is to take a request to locate a dig site, turn that site into a transplant canvas, and reveal all the hidden underground utilities through markings on the ground using the American Works Association (APWA) Uniform Color Code (https://www.apwa.net/Library/Resources/Uniform-Color-Code.pdf).

To move the industry to the next level, there is a need to continue the pursuit of accreditation and certification programs for utility locating. Many organizations including UPROW, ASCE and Nulca are working towards implementation of these types of programs.

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