There is a clear connection between effective damage prevention and cost saving – when you avoid a damage, you avoid all of the direct and indirect costs that come from it. But the use of innovative technology in the damage prevention process can also help stakeholders in saving time and saving money.

In this blog series, we are exploring the different benefits of using electronic white-lining (EWL) as the first step in damage prevention. Just as the Common Ground Alliance (CGA) has envisioned that by 2030, every ideal dig will start will EWL, at Aii, we too believe this is a fundamental step. By utilizing web entry locate requests rather than merely calling 811, excavators can gain access to certain tools like direct data entry on their proposed dig and the ability in many cases to draw a map of their dig site directly on an overhead image, map, or satellite display. Examples from the United States and Canada demonstrate exactly how this improves efficiency, cost savings, and ultimately reduces damage.

In Alberta, Canada, which fields 98 percent of its over half a million annual locate requests via web entry, “the operational savings have been considerable and have allowed the One-Call centre to increase promotion, awareness and advocacy efforts.”

Expanding on this, career damage prevention leader, Mike Sullivan explained, “In Canada … locate requests are predominantly made online and there isn’t any downside to doing so. It’s available 24/7/365, no long waits on hold to speak with an Agent; and, depending on the software, Notification Centres are cutting costs dramatically.”

For tangible examples of those cost savings, Sullivan went on, “For example, Alberta One-Call (now Utility Safety Partners) used to employ roughly 55 Agents to process locate requests for Alberta alone. We now employ 32 Agents and provide services for Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba – and those services aren’t limited to processing called-in locate requests. Our Agents also manage our Chat services and [email] correspondence.”

By shifting to technological and electronic best practices, Canadian damage prevention saw both cost savings and increased output, all while reducing damage. And importantly, that freed up funds to improve marketing and awareness. While that case study demonstrates cost savings in terms of personnel and operations, to put dollars values to the potential for other cost savings, the PHMSA-Virginia EWL pilot program is instructive.

After analyzing the impact of EWL to reduce unnecessary locates, finding that “the number of locate notification tickets issued was reduced by 8.04 percent,” and assuming a $10 average cost per ticket, the study projected that Virginia alone could save over $6.2 million just in locate costs.

The study goes further: “extrapolating the demonstrated 8.04 percent reduction in outgoing notification tickets nationwide, the potential savings in locate costs alone could exceed $120 million.”

The way these costs are reduced are by allowing excavators to detail exact and precise aerial representations of a dig site by directly entering information online rather than going through a middleman by phone, who would then input the information to the best of their estimation. The Virginia pilot program found that “the average notification area for locate requests was reduced by 89.42 percent” and “tickets with unclear marking instructions were reduced by 91.80 percent.” There were also significant reductions in incorrect address tickets, canceled requests, extension requests, and 3-hour tickets (used when an excavator sees clear evidence of unmarked facilities).

While many of these cost savings reduce the need for locators to visit a site by narrowing the area – a cost saving for utilities – the use of EWL also makes locator’s jobs more efficient, allowing them to do their work more quickly and to schedule more jobs. Locators also save on fuel costs, time at the site, and time and money having to return or remark a site if, due to a poor site description, an error occurred in the first place.

Excavators utilizing EWL also avoid the cost and time of having to physically visit the site multiple times for meet-sites, physical white lining, or certain other proposed excavation tasks. CGA points to EWL being especially “cost-effective” for problematic and complex dig sites and elsewhere offers it as a technique with one of the greatest returns on investment. Excavators and utilities together share in the main cost saving – damage avoidance. With greater precision in virtually identifying the exact dig site, locators can conduct their work more efficiently. Avoiding damage avoids adding to the nationwide bill of over $30 billion annually in direct and indirect economic harm.

There is clear consensus by PHMSA, CGA, and others that virtual or electronic white-lining adds value and saves on costs. This is why CGA concludes the EWL case study its latest Technology Report by stating, “Virtual white-lining results in increased efficiency for both the locator and the excavator, while also helping to reduce damages and lower costs.”

Stay tuned for the last blog in this series explaining the investigative benefits for electronic white-lining.


Read the full series:


Safer Digging Part 1: Before the Shovel

Safer Digging Part 2: Click Don’t Call

Safer Digging Part 3: Keep it in Park

Safer Digging Part 4: Saving Time Saving Money

Safer Digging Part 5: Investigating a Damage


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.