Up to this point, we have explored a range of benefits that accrue from the use of technology in the damage prevention process. Not only is technology vital to avoiding damage, but it makes the process more efficient, reduces environmental hazards, enables cost savings, and more. One final benefit emerges after the worst case scenario – a damage – but having used innovative technology along the way can help expedite investigations, determine liability, and get the project back on schedule.
Electronic white-lining (EWL) has been our focus during this blog series primarily because it can help prevent damage. By providing locators and utility operators with the most precise and virtually-accessible representation of the dig site, virtual or electronic white-lining helps to reduce damage. Physical white-lining includes these same benefits, but comes at the cost of a site visit for the excavator. It also has another weakness: its temporary nature.
Without any white-lining, error can be common, as locators may have wrong addresses, little or conflicting information about a dig site, or confusion about the scope of the dig. With physical white-lining, much of this is reduced and the locator can more quickly and confidently mark the area inside and around the pre-marked site. But when the excavator begins his dig, he may excavate the spray paint, stakes, or flags themselves. Any indication made by the excavator of the dig will obviously be removed along with the dirt on site.
This disturbance of the dig site (which is natural and appropriate) eliminates critical information that may be needed if a damage occurs. When damage occurs, with no pre-marking or physical white-lines that were dug up, investigators and other invested parties may lack the ability to determine if the root cause was the locator failing to mark within the proposed dig site, whether the excavator dug outside of the proposed dig site, or similar error.
Electronic white-lining not only helps reduce the chance of damage, like physical white-lining, but preserves an electronic record of the pre-marking. This way, throughout the course of the excavation, information is not eliminated or lost at all. This can be a valuable tool to stakeholders, investigators, and others when seeking to determine the root cause and ultimate liability.
Similar electronic platforms and techniques like enhanced positive response (EPR) similarly create unalterable electronic records of the locator’s site markings. Together, EWL and ERP form a digital lockbox that ensures all parties have the critical information they need about the dig site, and if the worst occurs, the same information is available for review and analysis in investigating a damage.
Whether through the Common Ground Alliance, the National Transportation Safety Board, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, or various state regulatory bodies and even insurers, promoting technological platforms as best practices for damage prevention is a must.
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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.