Utility Locating Firm Builds Reputation With Safe, Dependable Work

Midwestern-based utility locating company puts focus on training the right way and ensuring safety as the company continues to grow

Utility Locating Firm Builds Reputation With Safe, Dependable Work

Baker Utility Partners co-owner and president Dan Baker uses an LMX ground penetrating radar utility locating tool (Sensors & Software) on a job site, one of many tools the company employs to locate utilities for customers.

Interested in Utility Locating?

Get Utility Locating articles, news and videos right in your inbox! Sign up now.

Utility Locating + Get Alerts

Before there is digging, there is locating. Because of the endless proliferation of underground pipelines and cable-carrying conduit, anyone in the U.S. today preparing to break ground with an excavator or a spade first probes the ground with an electromagnetic device. Better safe than sorry.

“We are in the safety business,” says Aaron Reitz, one of three owners of Baker Utility Partners and vice president of business development. “We keep safety in the forefront of what we do. Our job is to keep ourselves and our customers safe.”

Unsafe digging runs the risk of ripping into a fiber optic communication or electrical power line and disrupting every customer the line serves. Or interrupting the flow of drinking water to homes or of sewage to a treatment plant. Or sparking an explosion in a natural gas line or an environmental spill from a petroleum transmission line.

None of the above is good and all of it is avoidable. Baker Utility Partners is a company dedicated to the task of avoiding underground conflicts. Steve Baker, another co-owner and a 45-year veteran of the location industry, says safety in the field is the company’s highest priority.

“It’s very busy underground,” he says, noting that 75,000 miles of publicly owned natural gas lines are buried in Indiana amid an array of other kinds of lines. “So, two things have been really important to me: safety and quality. That’s been my mantra the entire time. We’re talking about saving people’s lives, first and foremost.”

It is true that anyone can call the 811 service before digging to identify underground hazards. But that service is limited in application. Only publicly owned infrastructure is located, with responding utilities marking only their own lines. A comprehensive search is not made, in other words, and hazards still may lie in the path of a dig.

COVERING A WIDE AREA

In-the-field locating consultants of Baker Utility Partners cover a lot of ground. Headquartered in Arcadia, Indiana, the company has personnel stationed across a wide swath of the central U.S. Besides Indiana, Baker techs can be found working in Illinois, Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma.

“Actually we work anywhere and everywhere,” says company co-owner and president Dan Baker. “Ninety percent of our work is in Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma, but we’re also periodically working in Ohio, Wisconsin, Kentucky and Texas.”

All the states are a company focus, in any event — although 40% of Baker Utility jobs are in Indiana — and the company’s reputation has attracted clients from coast to coast. What is the reputation that lands far-flung jobs? “I believe that it’s the real partnership that you get with us,” the president says. “We work hard to ensure that all of a client’s needs are met and at a fair price.”

Price is a calling card — the actual dollar amount, that is, but also the assurance that comes with it. “We stick to our pricing. We give an estimate and we stick to it. We’ve found in our industry that too many folks will give a price and then step it up as work progresses, turning in change orders and increasing the price if different equipment is used.”

“It does come down to reputation,” Reitz adds. “We become the provider of services for a lot of companies that know our reputation and want that level of quality work and communication and professionalism of people in the field.” Those Baker Utility Partners professionals — 15 of them — are scattered across several states and operate from pickups laden with locator equipment.

Specifically, the in-field locator consultants rely on specialized equipment such as Vivax-Metrotech electromagnetic locating instruments, and ground-penetrating-radar devices manufactured by Sensors & Software. For concrete penetration, they pull out GSSI radar units.

“We bring a lot of tools to a location,” Reitz says. “We generally do a layered approach — electromagnetic locators, say, then ground penetrating radar. Most of the time our techs have the standard set of tools right with them. We bring what will be needed to get a job done and all for one price. That’s different than some companies, who roll out this or that tool and then charge additional per hour if another service is needed.”

The range of calls to which Baker responds is surprisingly broad. There are the reassurance calls made by contractors who know there are lines in the ground somewhere and want to know exactly the location of the buried infrastructure. Such locating assignments can be wrapped up in two hours or less, Dan Baker says.

At the other end of the spectrum are projects that have run as long as three years. Dan Baker cites a factory construction site that involved soil sampling in connection with old infrastructure. Then there are the open areas where wind-turbine towers are going up.

“Before companies ever lay out their wind farms, we go out and meet with landowners about underground infrastructure and conduct passive scans for miles and miles,” the president says. “Those are some of the most challenging projects. There are no roads to follow. We work across open pastures, trying to identify what cross-country utilities might be there.”

UNDERGROUND DETECTIVES

The upshot of all the out-of-sight searching is readily interpreted information for a customer. What was found in a search is displayed in a digital image. Different kinds of utility lines are color-coded for easy differentiation. That visual and data-rich information is given to a customer as well as downloaded into the Baker Utility Partners network for future reference. 

The mystery of “what’s down there?” is thus solved. Sometimes the solution doesn’t come easily. Soil types can play havoc with GPR devices, with clay generally being the least penetrable. Unfortunately for the company, much of the Midwest region is underlain with clay. Dan Baker notes that a device that can peer 20 feet into the sandy soil of, say, Florida, can only penetrate 4 or 5 feet in Indiana.

And sometimes — Reitz stresses that it’s an exception — a pipe or conduit simply refuses to reveal itself to electromagnetic or GPR devices. In those cases, a partnering company is called to bring a hydrovac rig and gingerly explore the site. When delays of any kind occur, contractors can get antsy. Dan Baker says he occasionally hears the grumbling. “I understand it. We get calls for help with public utilities that have not been located by 811. We help them as much as we can to reduce a contractor’s downtime.”

All this underground detective work by the technicians requires expertise, of course, but it is not rocket science, Dan Baker says. “Locating a line is not that difficult. What is difficult is knowing what you are looking for and then identifying it when it’s located.” That ability comes from training and experience.

“Most of our employees have some experience when we hire them,” Reitz says. “For the first couple of months, what we show new employees is our way of doing the job. We have our specific process to make sure it’s done right. Some of them come from public work where they have relied on a printed diagram to know what’s down there. That’s not always the case for us. We require more critical thinking to deduce what’s there.”

The techs also complete what the company calls its Health and Safety Program. That training meets or surpasses OSHA standards. Techs are instructed in CPR and other procedures needed in the event of an accident and generally are trained to respond to a crisis on a job site.

Steve Baker, the senior member of the team, trains people at a whole other level. As vice president of training and consulting, he has a contract with the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission to show companies where they went wrong and damaged underground utilities. He also frequently is a speaker at state and national industry conferences.

The sum of Baker Utility Partners’ experience is called upon to help clients find what they need to find. Reitz says the company’s success is tied to the word “Partners” in the company name. “That means a lot to us. We are partnering every day — with our clients, our employees, and among ourselves as business owners and stewards of the company. Every day we think about our partners. That’s who we are working with and for.” 



Discussion

Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.