Damage data collection system provides valuable benefits

J.D. Maniscalco
Executive Director, Utility Notification Center of Colorado
Lakewood, Colorado
Member, APWA Utility and Public Right-of-Way Committee
Moderator, 2003 APWA Congress

On December 4, 2002, the Common Ground Alliance (CGA) signed an agreement with the Utility Notification Center of Colorado (UNCC) for the purposes of building a nationwide database to serve as a repository for damage data reported via the Internet. The database adopts the platform and infrastructure currently maintained by UNCC, which has been successfully collecting damage data for the State of Colorado for over two years.

The CGA is building this North American damage database in response to the National Transportation Safety Board Recommendations P-97-22, 23, 24. The primary goal is to collect damage data from all stakeholders in an effort to store and maintain meaningful, objective data that can reflect significant trends in damages occurring throughout North America. Through the use of this data CGA will be able to issue summary reports assessing the effectiveness of regional damage prevention education programs. Additionally, the data will give a method to better quantify the annual costs associated with damages occurring to the undergound infrastructure.

In 2001, 11,092 facility damages were reported through the new web-based Damage Reporting System by 65 of our 900 UNCC members in 51 counties within Colorado. The Damage Reporting System was legislatively mandated by CRS 9-1.5-101-106 in 2000. With 5,022,752 billable transmissions in 2001, reported damages were limited to 0.22% of transmissions, or an average of 2.2 facility damages per 1,000 transmissions. In addition, there were only two injuries and no deaths reported resulting from the damage to our member facilities. This data suggests that continued utilization of UNCC one-call service has paid healthy dividends by minimizing the number of damaged facilities, protecting human life and maintaining vital community access to public utilities and private services.

This exceptional result has also been actively promoted through both UNCC and member advertising as well as UNCC training for members and excavators, and has been facilitated through active member support of recent industry legislation in Colorado. CRS 9-1.5-101-106 passed in the spring of 2000, providing for stronger definition of industry locate and damage prevention requirements as well as higher civil penalties for violations of the statute.

The purpose of this legislative action and the mandate to collect facility damage information is to keep people safe, to prevent the occurrence of damage to member facilities, and to analyze trends in the statewide damage prevention effort. A continued cooperative effort by facility owners, excavators, regulatory and compliance agencies, UNCC and related industry groups will minimize the risk of personal injury, reduce damage to member facilities, and maintain reliable community access to underground facilities and services that we all rely upon daily. Through a discerning analysis of the facility damage information collected over time we hope to learn how to better promote UNCC services, how to improve the educational programs, and how to successfully elevate our damage prevention activity throughout the industry.

2001 was the first year to collect and analyze underground facility damage information. UNCC wishes to thank all those members who had resources available to collect and report this important information. Although not all members reported, we believe that the 11,092 damages reported by members were the majority of the damages that occurred in 2001. This data will provide an excellent baseline with which we can measure damage prevention activity and continued progress in future years. We understand that some inconsistencies will occur in the data until we all better understand the scope and the detail of the information we are collecting. We also expect that the relevance of the system, the quantity of the data, and the quality of the information will improve as we move forward.

One purpose of our facility damage data collection and analysis effort is to identify trends that allow us to improve our damage prevention activity through advertising, marketing, training and legislative efforts. It is not meant to ostracize any stakeholder or stakeholder groups for their specific activity, but rather to directly improve the accountability of all stakeholders through our enhanced damage prevention activity. By closely working together and through active communication, we will all contribute to our goal of reducing facility damage, preventing injury and loss of life, and maintaining vital community access to public utilities and private services.

The 2001 damage data provides a number of useful insights pertaining to location requests. Interestingly, 62% of the 11,092 reported damages requested a locate, while 38% of the reported damages did not request a locate. In the case of facility damage when a locate was requested, it points to a further need of advanced training for facility operators, locators and excavators, especially in the areas of proper facility location and marking and more careful excavation around facilities by mechanical excavators. In addition, it suggests the need for heightened industry promotion and community advertising to encourage excavators to request locates. It also suggests the need to promote and support even tougher industry legislation and stronger deterrents for those who violate the laws by not requesting locates and those who need to exercise reasonable care when excavating around marked facilities.

The composite of the damage data has shed a factual light upon what we have often presumed was occurring. Mechanical excavation equipment (Backhoes — 49% of total damages, Trenchers — 17%) causes the majority of the damage to facilities (Communications — 52%, Gas — 29%). Front-range metro area counties had the highest occurrence of damaged facilities at 68% of total damages (El Paso — 18%, Arapahoe — 11%, Jefferson — 9%, Boulder — 8%, Larimer, Adams and Denver — 7% each).

Further analysis provides useful insight into enhancing our damage prevention activity by identifying facility types, excavator groups and counties that need advanced training programs and promotion. 70% of the facilities damaged by backhoe operators and 62% of the facilities damaged by trencher operators had a locate request. 62% of the damaged communication facilities and 59% of the damaged gas facilities had a locate request. In El Paso county, with the highest damage count and the highest request area, only 29% of the damaged facilities did not have a locate request, suggesting county excavators should be trained in more careful excavation around located facilities. While in Boulder county, also high in damage count, 42% of the damaged facilities did not have a locate request, suggesting county excavators should be both encouraged to request locates and also trained in more careful excavation around located facilities. Further careful analysis of this data will allow us to target, direct and enhance our promotion and training programs for specific stakeholder groups and geographic areas to provide the greatest impact to increase locate requests and reduce facility damage.

This brief report is not meant to be an exhaustive analysis and review of the 2001 damage data. It is meant to provide a meaningful update on where we are in the process of collecting the data and reviewing the information. It is also meant to provide insight on how this valuable information can be used to improve our damage prevention efforts in the coming years. Please visit our website where members may do any extensive analysis of the data by using our query system.

The damage committee and the UNCC staff will continue throughout the year to further analyze the information, improve the viability of the system, and utilize the insightful knowledge gained to enhance our promotion, advertising and training programs. Our continued cooperation and open communication will ensure we meet our goal of reducing facility damage, preventing injury and loss of life, and maintaining vital community access to public utilities and private services. UNCC will continue to collect and analyze damages. We must have your continued cooperation in order to reduce damages to all facilities. Please transmit your damage reports electronically through our website at www.uncc.org. Damage reports may also be faxed to (303) 234-1712 or (800) 822-2094.

J.D. Maniscalco is the moderator at an educational session at Congress entitled "Confronting Infrastructure Protection." The session takes place on Sunday, August 24, at 3:00 p.m. He can be reached at (303) 205-6301 or at jdman@uncc.org.