Damage prevention conferences are invaluable opportunities to network, discuss best practices and compare notes on how we can all work together to minimize damages. These events also foster a sense of shared responsibility by allowing us to make personal connections with others involved with damage prevention.
Because of the pandemic, in-person conferences and meetings have been less common over the past two years. But this fall saw the return of two key damage prevention conferences: the Users’ Group meeting (hosted by One Call Concepts for the company’s notification center clients) in Palm Springs in September, and the Common Ground Alliance Conference & Expo in Orlando in October.
Both conferences gave notification centers, facility operators, excavators, locators and others involved in underground utility damage prevention a long-awaited chance to meet and compare notes on topics such as technology and trends, how the pandemic has affected our work and how we can all work better together moving forward. Here are some of the highlights:
Gopher State One Call COO Barb Cederberg is co-chair of Minnesota’s Underground Utilities Mapping Project Team. This team was formed in 2020 to tackle industry-wide issues related to underground mapping. The team’s presentation at this year’s CGA, “Minnesota’s Groundbreaking Project: Minnesota Underground Utilities Mapping Project Team,” presented the results of the first year of a multi-year effort of this multi-stakeholder initiative to develop accurate maps of underground facilities, develop the capability to have designers, locators and excavators view the desired area of these maps when needed to perform their work, and thus lead to a reduction in damages to underground facilities. Read more about the team and their efforts in the Spring 2021 issue of dp-Pro magazine.
Overcoming Obstacles to Zero Damages
As the CGA reported this year, the rate of damage to underground infrastructure in the United States has increased or remained stagnant for more than five years now. In 2020, CGA launched its Next Practices Initiative to address the industry’s most persistent challenges and systemic inefficiencies. The goal: To achieve a significant reduction in damages to buried utilities.
At this year’s CGA conference, there was a lot of talk about the Initiative’s 2021 status report, Pathways to Improving U.S. Damage Prevention, which identified three critical issues that stand in the way of preventing damages: Facilities not marked accurately and on time; excavator errors in the field; and effective and consistent use of 811.
It also outlined four of the “highest-ROI” opportunities for improving the damage prevention system as a whole. According to the CGA, these are:
- Increase implementation of electronic white lining
- Pursue a GIS-based mapping system/database
- Utilize technology/software to account for variability in demand (for locates and across the damage prevention process)
- Contractually incentivize adherence to best practices and address incidents via effective enforcement mechanisms
GIS-based Mapping Systems
One of the most talked-about items from the Next Practices status report at this year’s CGA was the second opportunity above: What Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping systems and databases can do for the industry. GIS encompasses tools and techniques for capturing, analyzing and leveraging spatial information in damage prevention-related industries as well as in other sectors.
From the status report: “A comprehensive national GIS map of buried infrastructure would make the locating process drastically more efficient and accurate, and identify abandoned facilities.” Read in-depth about how GIS-based systems and databases can improve safety outcomes on page 9 of the status report.
At both the CGA and OCC Users’ Group conferences, damage prevention professionals compared notes on how they have navigated events and outreach during the pandemic. Some organizations are returning to in-person events this year, while some are continuing with virtual-only. Not only did COVID-19 force damage prevention professionals to learn how to plan and run virtual events (and made us experts in Zoom, Moodle, Webex and other platforms in the process), it taught us all to be flexible and patient as we adjust to changing health recommendations and situations. Some organizations have found success with offering hybrid remote/in-person models for community outreach and damage prevention or board meetings, while others have experimented with moving indoor programming outdoors, offering smaller-capacity meetings or even experimenting with drive-through event setups.
Shared Responsibility: Still a Priority
With damages remaining at a standstill the past five years, the idea of shared responsibility was a hot topic. While this concept has always been crucial to the damage prevention community—and a driving force behind GSOC—it bears repeating that we all must do our part to bring us closer to the goal of zero damages.
Other upcoming damage prevention conferences: