The damage prevention industry is critically important for public safety. To properly prevent damage, communication and use of technology are essential. This not only guarantees smooth, efficient, and cost effective projects, it literally saves lives.

Every year, millions of dollars in lost productivity, service interruption, property damage, and even serious injury and death occur because of failures in the damage prevention process.

With 811 and One-Call center websites, great strides have been made to help excavators, utility operators, and locators collaborate to prepare a dig site safely. But the current process does not reflect the way we use technology everywhere else in society.

Virtually everyone carries a camera, photo library, GPS, email, messaging app, and more in their pocket in the form of a smart phone. But most states do not require these tools – commonly used by virtually every American – to be used in the damage prevention process.

All of the technologies needed for effective damage prevention are already being used. Just not for damage prevention. Everywhere else.

Even the pizza industry has created a more transparent model for food service than damage prevention has for critical public safety.

The process for damage prevention looks much like it did for the last 50 years: excavator places call (or now a web entry) to a One-Call center; the One-Call center creates a ticket for the locate request and sends notifications to each utility operating facilities in the area; a locator is sent to the site; they leave spray paint and flags to mark the facility lines.

Yet issues from miscommunication to no communication are possible in this system. From rare lack of accountability on repeat locate jobs to markings being disrupted, and premature digging or mismarked facilities; these all cry out for a technological solution capable of reducing human error and ensuring all parties are on the same page, seamlessly communicating and sharing information.

Enter your favorite pizza delivery franchise.

You used to have to call to place an order for pizza. Now you can place the order online! Likewise, once it was required to call specific One-Call center line to request a locate ticket. Progress certainly came with 811. Now, in many place a website portal allows you to let the One-Call center know all the details.

Yet pizza still outclasses the damage prevention industry.

Today you can track a pizza through a virtual platform from order to preparation to the oven and as it is delivered. In some cases, you can even track the delivery driver through GPS as he or she makes their way to your house.

Yet despite all this technology existing – and the exact concept being proven by the likes of Pizza Hut, Dominos, Papa Johns, and others – the excavation and damage prevention industry has not made it a priority.

We are still bound to calling or placing an online ticket request and waiting for spray paint marks to show up on our dig site after two or three days. And in most states, it is not even required that the locator affirmatively communicate –or positively respond –after completing their job to let the excavator know they finished or whether there was no conflict to mark.

We should look to the pizza industry for the way forward. Excavators should be able to track the progress of their ticket, including a GPS tracker for the locators as added accountability and accuracy, and know exactly which utility operators own facilities, which have responded, and see the enhanced information about the site themselves. Relying on spray paint marks has helped improve safety, but we will not get to zero incidents without serious adoption of technology and communication.

Technologies and best practices like Enhanced Positive Response (EPR) allow excavators to see what the locator sees. EPR would surpass the pizza portal, not only allowing an excavator to track the progress of a ticket, and see the GPS result of locators visiting the site, but would give photos of the site, facility maps, and ticket information directly to the excavator through a common-access portal.

Armed with all this enhanced information, the excavator can break ground with confidence that all facilities have been marked, and by double checking the raw data before digging rather than using spray paint as his only guide.


Written by Benjamin Dierker, Director of Public Policy


The Alliance for Innovation and Infrastructure (Aii) is an independent, national research and educational organization. An innovative think tank, Aii explores the intersection of economics, law, and public policy in the areas of climate, damage prevention, energy, infrastructure, innovation, technology, and transportation.