Late Locates: A Current and Emerging Crisis in the Damage Prevention Industry

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  • Late Locates: A Current and Emerging Crisis in the Damage Prevention Industry

In the realm of construction and excavation, the phrase "time is money" holds a particularly true.

However, an emerging crisis dubbed "late locates" is causing significant disruptions, delays, and financial setbacks across several states in the U.S., challenging the industry's legal frameworks and operational efficiency.

This issue not only impacts the bottom line of businesses but also poses a significant risk to public safety and infrastructure integrity.

The Heart of the Problem

Recent data analysis from seven diverse states has shed light on a worrying trend: as many as 56% of tickets, requests for utility location markings before excavation, receive late or no positive response. 

This means that in over half of the cases, work cannot legally commence on the intended start date, leading to delays and logistical nightmares.

Telecommunications and water/sewer sectors are particularly hard-hit, with higher late response rates compared to other utilities.

The ripple effects are most profoundly felt in telecom projects, which are crucial for maintaining essential communication networks and services.

The Analysis Unveiled

The data, which emanates from a comprehensive analysis conducted by the Common Ground Alliance (CGA), offers a stark view into the state of utility locates across the U.S.

This analysis is part of a broader effort to address the well-established challenge of late, absent, and incorrect utility locates, which stands as a significant obstacle in meeting the industry

's ambitious "50-in-5" challenge—aiming to reduce excavation damages by 50% within five years.

The seven states in the study, chosen for their mandatory positive response systems, represent approximately 17% of incoming notices and 14% of outgoing transmissions in the U.S. The findings are alarming, showing that the lack of timely and accurate locates is not an isolated issue but a widespread problem with profound implications for safety and efficiency.

Breaking Down the Barriers

The root causes of late locates are multifaceted. In some cases, locators mark sites within the required timeframe but fail to update the positive response systems promptly, leaving excavators in the dark about whether their work can proceed.

Additionally, excavators themselves sometimes report inaccurate status codes, further muddying the waters of communication and compliance.

The study also highlighted the dubious nature of some positive response codes, including unsuccessful attempts to contact the excavator, extensions of due dates agreed upon without proper documentation, and false claims of completed markings.

Towards a Solution

Addressing this crisis requires a multifaceted approach.

First, there's a clear need for better enforcement of existing laws and contracts with locators to ensure compliance. 

This could involve revising the structure of locate contracts and enforcement mechanisms to incentivize timely and accurate locates.

Technological solutions also play a critical role. The adoption of better field technologies could facilitate quicker updates to positive response systems, reducing uncertainties and enabling work to proceed as planned.

Additionally, more consistent data collection and analysis across states and 811 call centers could provide deeper insights into the problem, helping to devise more effective strategies for improvement.

The Path Forward

Late locates are more than just a logistical inconvenience; they are a significant safety risk and a financial burden.

To overcome this crisis, the industry must embrace clear communication, stringent accountability, and technological innovation.

By doing so, it can restore confidence in the damage prevention process and take a significant step towards achieving the "50-in-5" goal.

The journey towards timely and accurate positive responses is challenging, but with concerted effort and collaboration among all stakeholders, it is a goal within reach.

The future of the damage prevention industry depends on overcoming the late locate crisis, ensuring that work can proceed safely, efficiently, and legally.

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  • Late Locates: A Current and Emerging Crisis in the Damage Prevention Industry