Excavation damages to underground utility assets are incredibly costly. A cut fiber optic cable, for example, could result in customers losing their service, sowing public discord for a telecommunications company. Or, a gas pipeline strike could result in an explosion, which can cause extensive property damage and injury or even death.
According to the 2019 DIRT Report, the total societal cost of damages to buried U.S. infrastructure is estimated at $30 billion in 2019 alone. And despite Call Before You Dig campaigns and other efforts, utility damages are on the rise for the fifth consecutive year.
Damage prevention software can help utilities reverse this trend. Read on to learn about this technology and how it allows utilities to maximize damage prevention program effectiveness.
What is damage prevention software?
Damage prevention software, also called utility asset protection software, protects critical underground infrastructure such as gas and electric lines and telecommunications cables from third-party excavations. It is used in conjunction with other proactive damage prevention efforts such as facility locating and marking.
Perhaps the most common type of damage prevention software is a ticket management system (TMS), which helps streamline 811 dig ticket processing and asset location efforts. Predictive analytics solutions such as Urbint Lens for Damage Prevention also fall under the damage prevention software category.
Urbint Lens uses machine learning, a type of artificial intelligence, to provide insights into where third-party excavators are most likely to damage infrastructure for ticketed and non-ticketed excavations. It does this by examining a utility’s historical incident data; other internal data such as the age, type, and location of an underground asset; and external data such as weather conditions, soil conditions, and population density.
For ticketed excavations, Urbint Lens assigns a risk score to the 811 ticket. A higher damage risk score means an accident is more likely to occur or that the consequences of an accident would be more severe. For example, severing a cable that services a 911 Call Center could mean life or death, whereas severing a residential cable could cause some angry customer calls. Using this information, damage prevention managers can better prioritize field interventions such as locate audits.
Urbint Lens also provides insights on where no call excavations are likely to occur and which are the most likely to result in infrastructure damage. This is important because failure to notify One Call Centers is the largest individual root cause of damage, according to the 2019 DIRT Report. By pinpointing where no call excavations are more likely to occur, damage prevention managers can better target 811 dig awareness campaigns or even petition municipalities to alter their work permitting process.
Who uses damage prevention software?
Any company that owns and operates critical underground infrastructure can benefit from damage prevention software. This includes gas, electric, water and sewer, and telecommunications companies, among others.
Within a utility, office staff including damage prevention managers or specialists use damage prevention software to view tickets, assign locate activity, and assign locate audits or interventions based on risk. Field personnel including locators and inspectors use damage prevention solutions to document their activities by taking photos, drafting notes, and completing assigned tasks.
Does all damage prevention software have risk scoring?
No. Although all damage prevention software is intended to help prevent critical infrastructure damage, only a few software solutions have predictive analytics.
In some cases, a TMS will include some type of damage risk scoring; however, the risk scores often come from a third party, which reduces the software provider’s control over iteration, improvement, and overall configurability.
Damage risk assessment is the star feature of Urbint Lens for Damage Prevention. Urbint Lens also offers insights on high-damage no call excavators and where no call excavations are most likely to occur, which ticket management software does not do. Additionally, utilities can use the software to assign, monitor, and document locate and intervention activities across a service territory, which is similar to a TMS.
Why should utilities use damage prevention software?
A review of Common Ground Alliance ticket data shows there are upwards of 35 million excavations in the U.S. every year. That number could be as high as 100 million when factoring in no call excavations.
Every excavation, big or small, represents a risk to critical underground infrastructure. This is why federal and state governments require all pipeline operators of gas and hazardous liquids to have a damage prevention program. Some telecommunications companies also have programs for the express purpose of preventing excavation accidents.
But, as any damage prevention manager will tell you, these programs don’t have anywhere near enough staff to tackle the volume of 811 tickets. It is not physically possible or economically feasible to intervene on 35 million tickets, let alone 100 million. This forces damage prevention teams to prioritize interventions such as locate audits based on personal experience and gut feel, which is inefficient and not always effective.
Damage prevention software like ticket management systems and Urbint Lens complement damage prevention programs. Urbint Lens, for example, does so by identifying and surfacing the riskiest excavation projects, which allows utilities to better allocate their existing staff.
Major utilities throughout North America rely on Urbint Lens to help reduce damages and their related costs. For more information, check out the Urbint Lens for Damage Prevention webpage.