The Damage Information Reporting Tool (DIRT) Report from the Common Ground Alliance (CGA) is the definitive word on excavation damage to underground facilities. Stakeholders and policymakers alike go to this resource to understand the level of damage, estimate the costs imposed on society, and peer inside the root causes in hopes of reducing and preventing damage going forward. But the latest available report comes with less clarity than years past and seems to conclude with a disheartening finding:
Excavation damage events reached a new all-time high in 2021.
The unprecedented height in total damages is not a straightforward finding identified in the DIRT Report for 2021, but it takes only simple logic to conclude. While couched as “damages have plateaued or slightly increased,” this mild-sounding conclusion is belied by the fact that the baseline year for the trend in question is 2019.
DIRT readers will remember that the critical finding in the Report released in 2020 summarizing data for 2019 is that damage to underground facilities reached an all-time high. That year, CGA estimated that the likely total number of damage events was approximately 532,000 across the country. This even led to the first words of the executive summary in that DIRT Report declaring unambiguously: “Damages are on the rise.” The same Report also estimated the total economic harm to the U.S. from direct damage events and indirect rippling costs amounted to over $30 billion every year.
At best, the latest DIRT Report concludes that damages plateaued in 2021. This would mean that the statistical placement of the total damages is on par with 2019, the highest year on record. At worst, it means that damages increased from the 2019 baseline year, surpassing the highest year on record and establishing a new all-time peak for excavation damage to underground facilities. We must use these general parameters, because we do not know definitively.
The DIRT Report was plagued with poorer data this year than CGA has seen in a decade. Not only was data quality a nuisance, but certain major industry participants that regularly submitted damage event reports to CGA simply ceased to do so for 2021, leaving CGA with fewer than 50 percent of the reports it had received in the previous year. With this precipitous decline in damage reporting comes lower confidence in the statistical model.
Nonetheless, the three-year model found statistically significant increases in key metrics from 2019 to 2021. We are forced to conclude then that despite low confidence and poor data – and despite CGA not publishing an estimated total number of damages for the first year since 2006 – that damages in 2021 did indeed reach a new peak.
To read more, see our latest report.
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.