A lot of time and effort goes into reducing damages to buried energy and utility assets. Technological advancements do pay off but they’re usually costly to develop and expensive to purchase and implement. By far, the most effective method of reducing damages to buried assets is requesting a locate before digging and waiting for a response from the owners of those assets to locate and mark or provide additional information to help determine whether it is safe to dig. Recent analysis, however, indicates how making a locate request can improve the odds of whether buried assets will be damaged during excavation – and it doesn’t cost a cent.
Alberta One-Call Corporation (AOC) introduced, trademarked and adopted the ClickBeforeYouDig brand almost nine years ago with a primary goal to alleviate the bottleneck of phone locate requests on Mondays and early in the digging season. In Alberta, the digging season can be as short as six months meaning a year’s worth of major projects might be jammed into a short time span. In those days it wasn’t uncommon to have Monday wait times of 90 minutes while our agents sat idle on Thursday and Friday. Our web percentage hovered around 17% and our Contact Centre employed 50-plus Damage Prevention Associates (DPA). Shifting to the ClickBeforeYouDig call-to-action changed everything. In our first month promoting the online process, web locate requests hit 65%. But the software we were using wasn’t designed for that purpose, forcing DPAs to review and triage every web ticket before members were notified of the proposed excavation. So, while it alleviated pressure on phone lines, it didn’t diminish AOC’s interface with every ticket.
Switching locate request software was a game changer. It catapulted Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba into the future. In a very short time, our members and the digging community accepted and embraced the switch. And once they did, something interesting happened.
On a hunch, I asked our Contact Centre Manager, Josef Rosenberg, who managed DIRT data for Alberta, to dig deeper into the root cause of damage. I believed web locate requests were less likely to result in damage than traditional phone locate requests, but I wanted to see if the data supported that hunch.
Josef began by documenting all damages reported into DIRT and then eliminating those damages that did not include a locate request. For the remaining damages, Josef conducted a data dive to determine the method of locate request – phone or web. He determined that phone requests were more than twice as likely to result in damage as a web request. Click- BeforeYouDig wasn’t just convenient, faster, and less burdensome for all parties involved – it was reducing damages by almost half!
Although excited with these results, it was only one analysis, and we needed more input to determine the veracity of our findings. I turned to my One Call Centre colleagues across Canada asking them to apply the same simple test. Ontario One Call accepted the challenge and even though they were using a different software, their findings were virtually identical to Alberta’s. We pressed on, conducting additional analyses the following year that, again, produced similar compelling results.
Sher Kirk, AOC’s Operations Director, approached the Members Resource Committee (now the Operations Oversight & Guidance Committee) with the findings and informed them AOC was considering implementing a mandatory web locate request process for members and contractors. After review, the Committee agreed with the proposed directive and with that in-hand, I approached the AOC Board of Directors with the analysis, findings, and proposal. The Board agreed with the proposal and on September 16, 2019, AOC “softlaunched” the mandatory web request process for members and contractors. The soft-launch helped prepare members and the digging community for the hard-launch that followed January 1, 2020. The positive effect was immediate and sustained with over 97% of all locate requests from AOC members and the digging community now submitted online.
“It’s really quite simple,” stated Rosenberg. “The excavator will always have the best information around their work area, and theoretically will know precisely where they plan to dig. Using the software, the excavator can identify their dig site with precision, and our members are notified accordingly. Virtually nothing is left to interpretation anymore, and as a result this is reducing damages on a huge scale.”
Personally, I’m of the view ClickBeforeYouDig needs to be a documented best practice and the primary call-to-action promoting the initiation of the damage prevention process. If a person can order a pizza online, they can – and will – request a locate the same way. All we have to do is show them that it’s the right thing to do.
Mike Sullivan is President of Alberta One-Call Corporation. He can be reached at msullivan@ albertaonecall.com.