Educating various stakeholder groups has always been a challenge for One Call Centers. How do we effectively reach folks who have the potential to damage utilities, or worse, harm themselves in the process?

This question arose again in Louisiana several years back when a tugboat operator working in a marine environment went off course and ended up getting his vessel and barge stuck in the mudline. The vessel operator started “wheel washing” (using his propellers to free the tugboat). The captain was unaware that a high-pressure natural gas pipeline was beneath his vessel and the propellers hit the pipeline causing it to rupture. Natural gas escaping from the pipeline ignited and the vessel caught fire. Tragically, the captain perished from injuries caused by the massive fireball that ensued.

One may ask, “What does this have to do with excavation?” It is a great question. In Louisiana, the definition of excavation is any operation causing movement or removal of earth. Did the tugboat propellers cause movement or removal of earth? The answer is a resounding YES!

This catastrophic accident heightened our need to educate mariners on the dangers that lie beneath the water. Louisiana 811 partnered with Coastal & Marine Operators (CAMO) to focus efforts on educating various industry entities to avoid tragic events like this from occurring again.

CAMO has worked tirelessly to seek federal grant partnerships, opened dialogue with various industry associations including the Dredging Contractors of America, and conducted countless presentations, oftentimes with Louisiana 811. All in an attempt to heighten awareness for excavators when working near submerged marine infrastructure.

Open dialogue with mariners uncovered interesting information concerning the difficulty in submitting a locate request to Louisiana 811. It was extremely difficult to indicate the precise location of work in a marine environment as required by Louisiana’s Underground Utilities & Facilities Damage Prevention Law (Dig Law). It often took 20-45 minutes to describe where the excavation would occur and how to get there.

Louisiana 811’s contractor, One Call Concepts, knew this was an issue so they took up the challenge of finding a solution. With valuable feedback from this stakeholder group, in addition to the pipeline group, a remedy was discovered.

Their software now allows a mariner to enter a locate request online by entering the GPS coordinates of the excavation area. The software’s base mapping system – Google Maps – appears with the precise location of the excavation site. From there, the excavator can draw a route, circle or create a polygon surrounding the area of excavation activity. Once reviewed and approved by the excavator, the software automatically generates the directions to the area providing a fast, easy solution to a problem that has existed for years.

The results have been impressive. Because of the education provided by CAMO and Louisiana 811 and the ease of entering locate requests online, marine ticket volume has increased drastically. Ticket reports comparing 2019 and 2020 data have shown a 714.47% increase in locate requests for “marine” work and a 122.46% increase for “dredging” work!

CAMO and Louisiana 811, along with Louisiana’s Dig Law Advisory Committee, were also successful in changing the Dig Law to further solidify language addressing marine excavation activity. The definition of excavation now covers “submerged facilities in a marine environment.”

Discovering a problem and finding a solution is key to any success. This was a critical issue and we addressed it with software and legislation. Marine excavators and facility operators are both happy with the outcome, and that is the definition of success!

Brent Saltzman is Executive Director for Louisiana 811. He can be reached at brent@laonecall.com.Live help

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