Town Hall: Late Locates CAN IMPROVED COMMUNICATION BE A “SILVER BULLET?”

Moderator: Meghan Wade, President & CEO, Georgia 811
Panelists:
• Louis Panzer, Executive Director, NC 811
• Bruce Campbell, CEO, MISS DIG 811
• James Moskal, Corporate Counsel, Corby Energy Services
• Kelley Heinz, Damage Prevention / Claims Investigator, ComEd
• Randy Bern, President/Owner, Vannguard Utility Partners Inc.

On April 14, Infrastructure Resources held our first Excavation Safety Alliance (ESA) virtual Town Hall titled Late Locates: Partnering with Notification Centers. The goal of our ESA Town Halls is to give everyone in the industry a voice and to provide a forum to work together towards solutions to common problems. The beauty of the ESA virtual Town Halls is that they allow people from all around the world to participate. There are tens of thousands of stakeholders in the damage prevention and excavation safety industry, but only a small percentage are regularly active in industry groups, and even fewer get to attend industry conferences where they get to exchange ideas and learn.

It was great to hear the many great ideas shared. It was also interesting to see that while some ideas were old hat to some people because of the state they were in, the same idea was an exciting new idea to someone else. In this article, I am simply sharing some of the ideas and discussions that took place in this hour-long Town Hall that came in via the chat and the follow-up survey. In order to see the full comments in their context you need to watch the Town Hall and read the Chat log, but this will cover the highlights. All the ideas may not work for everyone, but they will get the wheels rolling. You can watch the entire hour-long Town Hall and read the summarized chat log at ExcavationSafetyAlliance.com.

Here are the basic statistics:
• Over 300 stakeholders registered
• 93% of survey respondents rated the Town Hall as absolutely impartial or very impartial. Only one person rated it as not at all impartial.
• 65% of respondents rated the Town Hall as absolutely worth attending and not one person said it was not worth attending.
• 77% of attendees said they are very likely to attend future Town Halls and not one person said they were not likely to attend again.
• 69% said they were very likely to recommend ESA Town Halls to a peer and another 29% were likely to.

This is great news to me because it sounds like everyone, regardless of stakeholder group, is interested in talking about working together to improve the industry. Below are a few of the suggestions for reducing late locates both in the short term and in the long term. In order to cover more ideas, some of these comments are abbreviated. In the digital edition, and on the ESA Town Hall page, you will see expanded suggestions as well as more ideas and comments. ESA will not be recommending solutions, but we will be a place where all stakeholders can go to see solutions that do work for some people as well as new ideas, which you may find can help you.

Improving Communication: Many things fall into this category, but it was clear that improving communication and all stakeholders having clear expectations will go a long way to solving most problems:

• Randy Bern: We don’t get to control the volume, nor do we get to control the start time. So, what we do on an annual basis is go out and shake the trees and figure out what utilities we are going to be doing, as far as the amount of work. And we also try to talk to the excavators in the field to see what kind of work they’re going to do in the coming year. So, from that, then we try to figure out what the staffing is.

• Bill Kiger: PA provides “Coordinate PA” with over 16,000 active projects in the four year old system. The 34 regional Utility Coordinating Committees across the state meet to discuss the active projects. PennDOT has their projects in by county for the next 12 years with weighted indications of likelihood and priority code. There are 23,000 registered users.

• Louis Panzer: Some of this is a process problem with a disconnect between field and office entering tickets. We have seen some success with addressing process individually to try and bridge the gap, but it is an ongoing challenge

• Tracy Pursell: At JULIE in Illinois, we have a group that regularly meets called our Locate Summit group. They are provided a report that recognizes those excavators calling in requests when no work is being performed. Utilities’ subs are at the top of this list consistently.

Improve Map Accuracy: Facility owners can use accurate maps and shrink the footprint. This reduces the number of tickets which lowers the burden on the system, making it easier for locators to keep up. Operations provide maps and then keep them up to date. Constantly updating the maps will reduce the number of locate request over time. Accurate maps also help the locator save time and improve accuracy. Include abandoned facilities on maps so contractors do not have to stop work and request verification that the facility is no longer in service.

Electronic White Lining: Michigan uses electronic white lining which allows the excavator to choose the exact location and tighten up their buffer. They are also working with their members to improve their maps so fewer locate tickets are issued. Per Bruce Campbell, this takes the “steam off the top of the pot” making it easier for locators to keep up.

Locate Demand Management Tool: Michigan uses this to allow excavators to enter their planned start date and see the likelihood of an on-time locate. This information may allow them to modify their start date.

Scope of Work: James Moskal says that they keep their scope of work as narrow as possible to ensure the locates will be completed on time and that the locates are not requested before they are actually needed. Kelley Heinz says ComEd does the same thing and in addition to spreading out the locate workload, if the scope of work changes during the project, this also ensures the locates are being requested for the correct area.

Midnight Tickets: According to Jim Sanders with Johnson Locating Services, their tickets are due at midnight on the due date not 48 hours (or whatever the time is for the specific state) from when the request was logged. This makes it easier for the locators to plan their work knowing they have the full day to complete the request rather than having to jump all over town trying to complete tickets in the order they were requested.

Longer Ticket Life: People expressed the belief that a longer ticket life would reduce requests to remark simply because the ticket expired. Per Arch York, in Kansas, they have a 15 day ticket life and about 22% of their ticket volume are renewals. In Georgia, they increased the ticket life from 21 to 30 days. Per Kemp Garcia, Project Manager at Linescape LLC, Washington State did not have a ticket expiration date until 2013, but now tickets have a 45 calendar day life.

Narrowing Remarking Requests: Tina Brownlee, a Transportation Specialist at Clayton County, GA, suggested that when you ask for a remark, only ask for the section you need, not the complete ticket.

“Piggy Back” Tickets: Kemp Garcia indicted that some states have “Piggy Back” tickets and we are looking at that system to reduce response to tickets. If the general contractor calls in the locate, subs can fall under that ticket as long as they are digging in the same area.

Permitting Analysis: Randy Bern (locator) said that CO811 does permitting analysis and uses the information to forecast workloads for the coming year.

Areas of Continuous Excavation (ACE) Tickets: Laura Simkus, Call Center Supervisor at Before You Dig, Inc., said that in CT they have an ACE ticket that is used for properties and that excavation is a part of their everyday operations, otherwise their Routine work tickets expire 30 calendar days from issue.

Uncontrolled Volumes with Unpredictable Spikes: Up-front information to the locators, both contract locators and facility owner locators, would be a big help on fiber projects. Kelley Heinz (electric utility) mentioned some pilot projects with some large fiber jobs starting at the design phase, and there is a pilot underway in Illinois. Louis Panzer said UCC preconstruction meetings and transparency are possible when large scale work is coming.

Geospatial Boards: Brenda V. Reigle, Executive Director, NUCA Pennsylvania, suggested each state have a Geospatial Board that can look at tying in the projects for mapping utilities.

Mark Once: James Wingate, Executive Director at Underground Service Alert of Northern California and Nevada (USA North 811), said he heard some buzz about the concept of “mark once” in which the utility operators would mark a ticket only once and the excavator is responsible to maintain and refresh the markings themselves for the duration of the project. Does anyone know if that is being done anywhere? And if yes, is it working? In his opinion, the operators would have to not only mark, but also provide their plans and photos of markings, etc., so the excavator has all of the tools to maintain & refresh accurate markings.

• Mark Bruce, Executive VP, Hydromax USA, said that “mark once” would be solved by creating accurate maps that can be served up time and time again, fast and low cost.

• Tabatha Waugh, Damage Prevention Specialist at Rogers Communications in Ontario, said that Bell Canada has implemented this here. If the marks cannot be maintained due to the excavation the contractor can request a remark but at a cost to them.

• James Moskal indicated that a maintain the marks program has been proposed in Michigan, but has not been implemented yet. The proposal calls for excavators to be vetted to ensure they are qualified/trained to locate facilities and would allow operators to opt into the program. Hopefully, this will be piloted later this year.

• Bruce Campbell said maintain the marks may not work for all Industries…we are partnering with ATT and Lumen primarily for the start of the program… Natural Gas and Petro have more concerns about the program, but they are interested.

Make Locating a Career: Roy Rogers, Utility Manager at Blount Construction Company, suggests that the industry should work towards making locators an actual career legacy type job with state licensing and certification. Labor crisis has hit contractors as well, but work is not stopping and we have to find a way to bring the labor to us. We are paying higher wages and more incentives.

Singapore System: Foo Zhi Rui from Singapore, said Singapore doesn’t have an 811 system, or legislation that mandates SUE. Utility detection is the responsibility of the contractor, and typically clients hold contractors liable for any strikes (essentially, lots of fines and kicking the bucket down the road). As a contractor, we are definitely feeling the squeeze on our bottom line in the current situation. This is one of the key reasons why we’re looking to SUE and SUM as guidelines/inspiration to flesh out a better system in Singapore. Coupled with adopting technology (GPR and 3D scanning to supplement the current standard of EMI/EML), we’re trying to push for a more accurate, and critically, a common (under)ground truth. There’s still a lot of groundwork to be done, but the system in America is a great reference of what could be.

Here is a quote from a participant in our first ESA Town Hall which really summarizes the feeling of what we hope the Town Halls will reflect: “As an excavator company, I would like to see what locators would like us to do that would help them with their work. I have a Locate Spreadsheet for updating, pausing and ending tickets, which I check every day. But can I do more? Keeping everyone safe is a team effort!

Check out additional ideas and comments, along with future Town Hall Topics and how to register to participate, at ExcavationSafetyAlliance.com.

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