New Report Analyzes Opportunities for Improving Utility Damage Prevention

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The Common Ground Alliance (CGA) recently announced the publication of its Next Practices Pathways to Improving U.S. Damage Prevention Status Report. The new report is a product of the Next Practices Initiative, which CGA launched in 2020 to encourage innovation and new practices in addressing the most critical challenges facing the utility damage prevention industry. 

Following collaborative discussions, information gathering and analysis, CGA published the Next Practices Report to the Industry in February 2021, which identified three critical industry issues, as well as four of the highest-ROI opportunities for systemic improvement. After the release of that report, the Next Practices Advisory Committee and Working Groups — made up of leaders representing a wide range of damage prevention stakeholders — moved into an information-gathering phase to review and assess practices, case studies, implementation examples and other data to inform the publication of the newly released Pathways to Improving U.S. Damage Prevention Status Report.

The new report was published in conjunction with the 2021 CGA Conference & Expo held in Orlando and explores the impacts, barriers, incentives and groundbreaking practices in place across the country to address the four opportunities for systemic improvement, improving efficiency and driving down damages across the system.

“We are very pleased to share the new Pathways to Improving U.S. Damage Prevention Status Report with the damage prevention industry at large, as it summarizes the Next Practices Advisory Committee and Working Groups’ deliberations, information gathering and analysis from the last eight months, as well as our vision for the future of damage prevention,” says Sarah K. Magruder Lyle, president and CEO of the Common Ground Alliance. “The pathways to reevaluating the U.S. damage prevention system that we map out in the report reveal that stakeholders should consider a new cost-benefit calculus, as underinvesting in safety at the beginning of a project ultimately leads to overpaying for damages. Our work in the Next Practices Initiative is only just beginning, and it’s our hope that this report will help set a strategic path forward to reducing the hundreds of thousands of damages that occur across the country each year and cost communities approximately $30 billion annually.”

The four opportunities identified in the report each address multiple critical challenges and will provide the damage prevention industry with the most significant return on investment in the near term:

  • Contractually incentivize adherence to best practices and address incidents via effective enforcement mechanisms. Contracts can be powerful tools in improving safety outcomes and damage prevention efficiency. In its discussions, the Next Practices Contracts/Effective Enforcement Mechanisms Working Group focused on how to contractually incentivize use of best practices, the inclusion of reducing or eliminating damages within contracts, and the importance of structuring contracts to consider both safety and efficiency.
  • Pursue an accurate, accessible GIS-based mapping system/database. The lack of centralized, accurate utility location information makes engineering and locating incredibly inefficient, and thus the damage prevention process as a whole less efficient. The Next Practices GIS-Based Mapping System/Database Working Group's discussions have focused on the need to demonstrate that mapping is the best decision for safety and efficiency in both the short- and long-term, the importance of portability of data as well as the need to amplify best practices related to the sharing of data.
  • Increase effective implementation of electronic white-lining. The practice of electronically white-lining a planned excavation site can help prevent damages to buried infrastructure by providing both facility owners and their locators with a highly accurate, internet-accessible visual rendering of the exact area that needs to be located, as well as potentially narrowing the scope or number of tickets delivered to facility owners.
  • Utilize technology/software to account for variability in demand (for locates and across the damage prevention process). While there are existing technologies that can increase flexibility in the locating and marking process, the Next Practices Technology/Software for Demand Variability Working Group's analysis found that there are many legislative and behavioral barriers to leveraging that technology. Despite the rigidity of state damage prevention laws around facility owner notification practices, some damage prevention stakeholders are identifying opportunities to work with excavators to create more elasticity in locating and marking timeframes.

“There are so many damage prevention industry stakeholders who are implementing innovative and important strategies to address systemic issues and inefficiencies to drive improvements in safety outcomes, and I want to thank all the organizations that submitted their data, case studies and information that contributed to our Pathways to Improving U.S. Damage Prevention Status Report,” says Josh Hinrichs, president of ELM companies, chair of the CGA Board of Directors and a member of the Next Practices Advisory Committee. “This information sharing is allowing the Next Practices Initiative to really give a clear status report on the biggest issues facing the industry and how we can collectively address common barriers and challenges standing in the way of progress, in order to embark on the most efficient path to move the industry forward.”

Read the Next Practices Pathways to Improving U.S. Damage Prevention Status Report, submit your organization's innovative approach to damage prevention and stay up to date on the Next Practices Initiative by visiting the CGA website.


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