One moment...

The Role Municipalities Play In Damage Prevention

By Louis Panzer, AGT International

Every municipality has underground facilities they are entrusted to protect. These include facilities that are actually assets of the municipality and facilities that are in the ground and owned by other entities. That these facilities require protection is a given among the One Call community at large. State legislation provides guidelines for correctly reporting excavation activities to the organization trusted with the stewardship of protecting underground facilities.

By Louis Panzer, AGT International

 

Every municipality has underground facilities they are entrusted to protect. These include facilities that are actually assets of the municipality and facilities that are in the ground and owned by other entities. That these facilities require protection is a given among the One Call community at large. State legislation provides guidelines for correctly reporting excavation activities to the organization trusted with the stewardship of protecting underground facilities.

 

The Florida State Statute 556 that created the Sunshine One Call of Florida (SSOCOF) is similar in tone and intent to those of One Call centers across the country.  Of note is the following section:

.

It is not the purpose of this act to create liability for negligence on the part of any municipality or county operator of an underground facility which elects to not participate in the one-call notification system created by this act.

 

The corporation created by this act that administers and oversees statewide damage prevention is limited by these words. It defines the One Call center as a notification vehicle and nothing more. It also implies that there are no legal grounds for enforcement inherent in the statute. Until now.

 

As of October 1, 2002 revisions to the FL State Statute 551 provide for the following:

 

Any local law enforcement officer or permitting agency inspector may enforce the Act without the requirement for the Act to be incorporated into a local code or ordinance.

 

And this is where municipalities can make the difference. Beyond simply cooperating with the agencies charged with the protection, the author believes it is in the best interest of the constituents of these jurisdictions to provide enforcement of these laws.

 

Levels of Involvement

 

Any time someone puts a shovel or backhoe in the earth, risk to underground facilities exists. This risk increases when a municipality fails to cooperate with the process legislated by the state. It is hard to imagine why any municipality would fail to do so but suffice to say, it happens.

 

The level of involvement that takes place in municipalities is as follows:

 

1)      No involvement. Not a member of One Call. (This will legally change on Jan.1, 2003 as all owners in Florida will be required to join!) Does not receive tickets and does not call in requests to the center when digging around facilities.

2)      Limited involvement. Does call in ticket requests when working in the ground. Does not belong to One Call.

3)      Involvement. Is a member of One Call and participates in the process of notification.

4)      Engaged. Is a member of One Call with a representative either on the Board of Directors, working on a committee, or in attendance at board meetings. Reporting

back to municipality changes taking place at One Call center that will affect their community.

5)      Highly engaged. Participates in One Call, works to establish best practices at their municipality, enforces violations, educates employees, excavating community and public of the penalties of failing to call before digging and the importance of digging safely.

 

The purpose of this paper is to suggest that municipalities work towards the highly engaged level. Here are some reasons why.

 

Cost of Damages to a Community

 

Damages occur primarily because either a call wasn’t placed before digging, the lines were not marked at all or improperly, or the maps used to mark the location were outdated and did not accurately reflect what was in the ground. As right of ways become more crowded with facilities sharing space, the margin for error is reduced significantly.

FDOT’s Office of Pipeline Safety estimated that there were over one million miles of transmission and distribution lines in service throughout the US in 2001 (http://ops.dot.gov/stats.htm).

 

By reviewing the collection of documented “incident reports” found at the Underground Focus Magazine website (http://www.underspace.com/acfile/index.htm) , literally hundreds of accidents have occurred involving water mains and lines being struck since 1995. Some of the incidents were the result of carelessness on the part of the excavators. Review of the most current accident reports at site, spanning June 3 to September 25, 2002 reveal that out of the 100 incidents reported, 28 involved water or sewer lines incurring damage or city crews striking gas or telecom lines.

 

These incidents represent significant costs to the municipals involved. The disruptions range from snarled traffic to evacuated businesses and homes to an incident that directly affected 30,000 people and was described as “the worst water main break in the city’s history.”

 

Fortunately in these incidents no lives were lost. However Underground Focus magazine and Underspace.com provide many examples where people have met their death as a result of a struck gas or power line.

 

Knowing this fact should be enough to create a sense of urgency among municipalities to join in the mutual interest of One Call legislation and enforcement. However there are still municipalities that do not fully engage in the process. Their disregard for this important program creates an assortment of problems for excavators and the community at large.

 

When no one identifies location of municipal facilities, the excavators run the risk of damaging the facilities every time they conduct work in the ground. The result is delays to projects getting started, potential for costly damage to water mains or services, and additional safety risks that could be avoided simply by participation in the process legislated by the state.

 

In yet another example, a Florida city that is a member of the One Call Center receives the tickets for their area but fails to provide any locations of their facilities. Efforts are being made with the city to bring them into compliance willingly. But it is still amazing that this should even have to be a battle at all!

 

Municipalities have a unique opportunity to take steps to support the existing One Call mechanisms in place. Disregarding these mechanisms entirely is not only a shame, it could be perceived as criminal. These acts of disregard are especially troubling when there are no enforcement actions taking place. Considering the fact that on January 1, 2003 ALL owners of facility in Florida, regardless of size, became required to be members of SSOCOF this behavior should not be allowed to continue or the message will be that participation in voluntary when in fact it is mandatory.

 

Forgetting the fact that there is a law requiring participation, municipalities have much to gain by getting involved with the process.

 

For one thing the call center does much more for its members than simply churn out tickets and send out invoices. There are important notifications that go out through the system. There are comparative statistics that can be used in areas other than damage prevention. There are awareness programs that can be extended to citizens to let them know about digging safely. And there is something else…

 

Opportunity for revenue

 

A 2002 change in the law means that municipalities do not need to seek additional codes to enforce State Statute 556. It means that there is no need to create a community debate about the issue. The law is clear. The original State Statute 556 has been in effect since 1994. The revision simply makes it easier for municipalities to do their part in supporting the efforts of One Call.

 

Enforcement can be delegated to those already dealing with inspection or code compliance. It can also be handled by police officers. David Erwin, SSOCOF, Inc. Legal Counsel notes that Section 556.107 has been incorporated into the 2003 Florida Criminal Law and Motor Vehicle Handbook, which all police officers carry in their vehicles. Palm Beach Sheriff Department currently issues fines of $250 for digging without calling SSOCOF. Excavators who do not wait to dig until all notified utilities have responded can also be fined. In some cases members hire off-duty officers to drive around looking for infractions and serve citations.

 

These efforts should be applauded as they represent the municipalities supporting the law in one of the best ways they can: by enforcing it! Enforcement is certainly very important to the process. But there are even more ways to assist in damage prevention.

 

Examples of Highly Engaged Municipalities in Florida

 

Let’s review the definition of a highly engaged municipality:

 

Participates in One Call, works to establish best practices at their municipality, enforces violations, educates employees, excavating community and public of the penalties of failing to call before digging and the importance of digging safely.

 

Based on this definition, here are some examples in the State of Florida along with the reasons why they fit this category.

 

Miami Dade Water and Sewer Department (MDWS) MDWS have been members since the beginning of SSOCOF and are currently represented on the Board of Directors by Tomas Goicouria, Chief, Utilities Development Division. By maintaining a presence on the board, they have helped to steward the changes that have taken place in the law, the improved technologies, and in the overall direction of the SSOCOF.

 

They have also worked internally to create a solid GIS representation of their facilities. This allows them to accurately find them when locating. Dade County also initiated “white lining” of an area where excavation is to take place. This identified best practice makes it much easier for locators to know exactly where a dig is to take place.

 

MDWS also took the technological leap to “maps in the field” helping to develop software that made their daily updated ESRI information available to the field locators on laptop computers. They have invested in the protection of their facilities because they know the importance of their responsibility to taxpayers and the community at large.

 

Additionally they have led the charge on enforcement through passage of their ordinance Article XIII.5, Section 21-227 in 2000.

City of Ocoee is another fine example of a highly engaged municipality. Proving that the small size of a municipality doesn’t limit involvement, Ocoee is given full representation by David Wheeler. David Wheeler has been an active board member since May 1998 and currently serves as the treasurer and finance committee chair. He has also been a participant on the Operations Committee and Bylaws Committee; and headed the committee charged with hiring a consultant to review and upgrade the mapping database.

Mr. Wheeler genuinely believes in the process of One Call and when he disagrees with a practice being considered, he is unashamed to speak his mind.

Pinellas County represents a municipality that also works extremely hard to affect change, through their Board representative, Carlos Solis. Mr. Solis has served on the SSOCOF board almost eight years, since the company’s inception and has been instrumental in developing long-term goals and objectives for the organization. He was  also the original registered agent for the corporation responsible for obtaining IRS approval for tax-exempt status.

Not surprisingly, Pinellas County also runs a highly effective One Call ticket screening and delivery system that pairs their maps on CDs with a ticket management process that is efficient and accurate.

Additional municipals that deserve credit for becoming engaged in the process of damage prevention on multiple levels include Gainesville Regional Utilities, City of Lakeland, and Jacksonville Electric Authority.

 

Each of these groups have taken charge of their One Call processes in their organization to merge work order management systems with GIS and One Call ticket management software. Again, there is a definite correlation between highly engaged municipalities and their effective use of technologies to improve efficiencies and further protect their facilities.

 

And this is my point. The individuals representing these communities leave their titles behind at the office to come together in the common interest of protecting all Florida citizens from the direct and indirect impact of damage to underground facilities. They engage in dialog about the current processes and practices, they poll outside agencies and organizations to determine alternatives and examples of best practices and they work to communicate their message to the excavating community and the public at large.

 

Does a municipality need to be a member of the Board of Directors to be considered “highly engaged?” No, there are many other ways municipalities can get involved.

 

Ways You Can Help!

 

1)      Make your Public Works staff aware of legislation changes that will impact your municipality.

 

2)      Encourage involvement in meetings of your One Call center by staff members. If you cannot attend meetings, there are many that are conducted via teleconference. Find out the meetings calendar and get involved!

 

3)      Provide your County’s electronic land base maps to your One Call center and update regularly. This single act will be highly appreciated by the center and will result in an overall improvement in the location of dig sites by One Call CSRs. If you do not have electronic land base, be aware that there is grant money available through the State of Florida to help pay for the development.

 

4)      Provide enforcement of your existing State legislation. Find out who in your organization could be responsible for this activity and put it into practice!

 

5)      Participate in national discussions on underground safety. Join the Common Ground Alliance (www.commongroundalliance.com) and listen in on the dialog. There exists a huge community dedicated to improving the processes and educating the public and excavating community. Listen in and take part!

 

6)      Become involved in your One Call Center’s Marketing strategy. Find ways to spread the word throughout your community.

 

7)      Upgrade your technologies! Inquire as to whether your municipality is receiving One Call notifications via fax modem or email. If at all possible, request your

tickets from the center via email. This helps them to reduce costs and actually gives you much more flexibility with the data received.

 

8)      Conduct regular awareness presentations to the excavating community. This is a last defense against damage as the people who are digging are the ones who end up in the accident files! Let them know about your facilities before they find them by accident!

 

9)      Start asking questions. Know who is responsible in your community for the important task of facility protection.

 

Enforcement, improved mapping and location technologies, awareness presentations, and national involvement are all significant ways to reduce costs and protect lives. Engaging in this process will no longer be a choice in Florida as of January 1, 2003. All facility owners in the state, regardless of size, will be required to become members of Sunshine State One Call.

 

Rather than considering this an obligation, I ask municipalities to view this as an opportunity. View this as a chance to get more involved in the protection of the citizens of your community. Your taxpayers will thank you for this and you may even find that improved vigilance and engagement lowers the incidents of damage that occur in your city or county. Please get involved and help to improve and enforce the processes in practice today.

 

The author is currently a Product Specialist with AGT International www.irth.com  and is a Co-Chair of the Common Ground Alliance Best Practices Committee. www.commongroundalliance.com   Louis served on the Board of Directors at Sunshine One Call of Florida in 2004-2005. He previously served as Operations Manager for IGS Technologies and Director of Research for The Innovation Groups(www.ig.org) .

He has authored and delivered the following white papers:

“Intelligent Learning Systems in the Utility Industry”, 1999 GITA GIS For Oil and Gas Conference, Houston, TX. “The Life of a One Call Ticket: Opportunities for Efficiencies in the One Call Process” 2001 Damage Prevention Convention, Dallas, TX.

 

Contact the author at lpanzer@agti.com

Comments & Ratings

Please sign in to rate this article.

 One moment...

Related Topics

Public Safety Police

Related Articles