Locate Technicians from USIC Share their Stories and Tips for New Locators
TALE FROM THE FIELD: MICHAEL FEENAUGHTY
I joined USIC in January of 2013. I started with the company in our Charlotte, North Carolina district as a Locator and worked my way up to a Lead Locator and then a Supervisor. After four years, I accepted a position in our Omaha, Nebraska district, where I currently reside and work as a Supervisor. Before USIC, I was drilling Marcellus shale in the Appalachian Basin.
I’ve worked in the utility industry for six years and I have been working within the locating industry for five years. I chose the field of locating because it is a trade that we will always have as long as we have buried infrastructure.
As a Supervisor, the best part of my job is training brand new locators and seeing the exceptional results 6-12 months later of a great locator who enjoys his or her job and is good at their trade. That is always a significant accomplishment.
It can be challenging performing the locate based on external factors like weather, bizarre location, house owner, etc. One challenge that sticks out to me is time management, especially during our dig season. The ticket volume is always high and we are always doing our best to make our customers, excavators, and homeowners happy, and we must work as efficiently as possible to meet the expectations of our customers, excavators, and homeowners.
Every moment counts. We map our day based on ticket due dates and we perform our locates step-by-step in the most efficiant way possible. Communciation with our excavators and homeowners is our best tool.
The best real world tip I would give to a new locator is to not rush the locates and do not take short cuts. If you start out doing everything by the book, that will become the norm and speed will come with time.
TALE FROM THE FIELD: TONY FRIBERG
I have been a locator for USIC Minnesota since 2012. I am currently a Supervisor with six years of experience in locating.
I don’t think I chose locating; I like to think that locating chose me. I had been a Project Manager for a large heavy highway contractor traveling around the country when they restructured their operations and downsized their work force. I didn’t know what to do. I was used to traveling 10 months out of the year and, being newly married, saw this as an opportunity to change careers to one where I could be home nightly. Of course, when you find yourself unemployed, panic sets in as to how you are going to pay your bills.
As I looked for a new career, I came across a locate technician position at USIC. A few things stuck out about the locating industry (which I had very little knowledge of at that point) and it grabbed my attention. After the interview process, I knew this was something that would challenge me on a daily basis and give me opportunities to advance within the company.
Once I accepted the job, I went through the training process to become a locate technician. After several years of being a successful technician, I was given the opportunity to move into a Supervisor role and hope to continue to move up into an Operations/District Manager role in the near future.
The biggest accomplishments in this industry come from keeping the public safe, along with customer recognition. I have been recognized by a few of our customers/operators for my role in public service/safety and helping to protect their plant. At the end of the day, that is why I do what I do.
I have had many challenges as a Supervisor in the locate industry, but I enjoy what I do and the people I interact with on a daily basis whether it is technicians, contractors, homeowners or customers. One of the most challenging parts of the job, especially in the Midwest, is the weather. There are very hot and humid summers and extremely cold winters. It is one of the very few jobs that you work rain or shine, hot or cold. You adapt to each of the seasons and make that most out of it to get the job done, while protecting the excavators and the public.
My advice to anyone interested in the locate industry is to look at every day as a new day. There is not a day that goes by that won’t challenge you, but the challenges that you face will only make you a better/stronger locate technician.
TALE FROM THE FIELD: SCOTT DUNLAVY
I joined the industry in 1993 and have worked as a Supervisor in Kansas, Oklahoma, Illinois and Colorado and as a Field Operation Manager in Texas. I have also worked claims in Texas and a trainer in Oklahoma. I enjoy finding lines that you are unable to directly see. Having contractors expose those lines and thank me for having them correctly located is a great feeling.
In my job, I have found that large locate requests can create the most frustration. Because it is a free service, contractors have a standard answer to mark the entire locate when it comes to large projects. This creates situations where marks are often destroyed and locators mark the same dig area over and over again without excavation being completed. Contractors then attempt to dig on old marks resulting in excessive time spent to find the facility or time spent looking for a facility that is not there. It always works best when contractors and locators work together to reduce the amount of time that passes from paint being placed on the ground to the contractor excavating.
When faced with challenges, you must face each challenge head on. Leaving a small problem unchecked will result in large problems very shortly. Communication can be a challenge because more electronic or phone conversations happen than a face-to-face discussions. Clear communication from both sides provides a less stressful situation. In my case, I’ve recently had a complete transformation regarding communication within my team — how they communicate with me and how they communicate with contractors. The mood is much more direct and positive.
My advice to locators is to quit trying to figure out an easier way to do the locate job. Work the routine on each ticket that was established in training. Trying to short cut the locate job will only result in frustration. The best locators follow the locate routine on every locate. No deviation.
TALE FROM THE FIELD: JAKE RYAN
I am the USIC Utility Locator in Downtown Denver, as well as the neighborhoods surrounding it. I have been locating for USIC for more than three and a half years. I spent more thanr 10 years as a maintenance supervisor in the community corrections industry, and was looking for a change of scenery. Community corrections can be an incredibly depressing industry, which is both physically and mentally exhausting. At one point, the water service to a building I managed burst. The repair company sat on site for more thn three hours awaiting utility locates to arrive, and the tech grew increasingly frustrated over locates not being completed. When the locator arrived, I watched him hook up and mark out the facilities. I immediately thought to myself, “I could do that.” I began researching job openings and saw that I could better my personal position, as well as escape the dissatisfaction at my job in community corrections, by jumping into the locating industry. Once trained and out in the field, I knew that I had made the right decision.
As a locator, I run into hurdles on a daily basis. It doesn’t matter if it is safety, angry contractors, complex locates, downtown Denver has it all. A recent challenge came about when responding to an emergency in front of a major telecom central office. A contractor was looking to replace a water service to a building. He would be completely crossing the street in front of the address, while at the same time crossing every utility we are contracted to protect.
The prints showed three telephone duct structures, but one look in the manholes that were present showed me that it wasn’t going to be that easy. I knew that I had to hook onto each and every line in the nearby vaults to verify if it was only three ducts, as the prints indicated, or more. Through this process, I found that there were actually seven duct structures, all containing high profile lines. I located and marked all of the ducts, documented my work, then informed the contractor of the importance of the facilities and the proximity of the dig area to the telecom central office facilities. One week later, an emergency came in for that very same spot, this time on a damage ticket. I arrived to find that the contractor had hit one of the ducts with a missile, damaging an 1100 pulp cable and an 864 ct F/O line. Once exposed, the duct was found to be directly on my marks from the locate. Due to proper documentation, including a sketch of the locate area, notes, measurements and pictures, we were completely covered and determined to not be at fault. If I had not opened each vault or hooked onto each line, or had simply taken the prints at face value, I could easily have been responsible for the extremely expensive damages.
One major point of information that I would pass onto somebody new to the field is the same that was passed onto me: Hook up to everything. The prints are merely guidelines; they do not necessarily always show the entire picture. It is only when physically hooking up to the facilities that you can know what is underground.
TALE FROM THE FIELD: CHRIS TALLEY
I joined USIC in 2011 as part of a startup. Previous positions within USIC include Lead Tech, Supervisor and STL (trainer). My current position is Project Manager. I’ve been in the utility industry for 15 years.
When I located, I enjoyed the independence, being outdoors, and having to be responsible for myself as well as being a part of a team. I enjoyed seeing the end results of projects upon completion, many of them requiring months and years to complete. Knowing that by me doing my job correctly, people I will never know remain safe. Every day is different than the previous. I enjoy the challenges of having to troubleshoot daily to make sure our customers’ facilities are properly protected, as well as human life. The part I enjoyed the most was the two years I spent as an STL (trainer). To be able to help people develop themselves and start a career was extremely satisfying. To see a tech after weeks or months of training finally have that “Ah Ha” moment. You know you did your job.
In my opinion, the biggest challenge a locator in the Midwest must deal with are the weather extremes. In winter you get blizzards, subzero temps for weeks at a time while wind chills can be anywhere from -10 to -50. In summer, you face a different adversary with the heat, where days are continuously hot and humid with heat indexes over 100, while the bugs eat away at you.
The most common challenge faced is wrong or missing prints. You can spend hours on the phone with customers and aimlessly walking around in circles.
My advice to new locators is, if you are just in it for a paycheck, this isn’t the job for you. Unless you take it seriously, you could seriously hurt or kill someone. If you want a good career that you can take anywhere, do everything the way you are taught. You will accidentally find things that may seem to make your job easier or quicker, but these will eventually catch up with you and possibly cost you your job or even worse, cost someone their life. Take pride and ownership in every locate you do no matter how easy or hard.
Our thanks to USIC for providing these stories from their locate technicians. Are you a locate technician? Involved in the protection of the buried infrastructure? Keeping our communities safe on a daily basis? We would like to hear your story. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to submit your Tale from the Field!