ESA Town Hall LIVE: Are We at Peak Damage Prevention the way it is being done? Are there Better Ways?

Moderator: Jemmie Wang, Partner, acretivPartners Consulting
• Duane Rodgers, CEO, PelicanCorp
• Lindsay Sander, CEO, Sander Resources
• Itzik Malka, CEO, 4M Analytics
• Steve Mumm, Executive Vice President of Sales, GPRS

The panel discussion addressing the question, "Are We at Peak Damage Prevention the Way it is Being Done? Are There Better Ways?", took place on February 16th, 2023, at the 18th Annual Global Excavation Safety Conference in Tampa, Florida. It featured a group of innovative thinkers from the damage prevention industry who shared their insights on the current state of the industry and potential solutions for improvement in the future. Before we dig into the potential solutions proposed by our panelists, let’s take a quick trip back to where it all began.

The damage prevention industry in the United States can trace its roots back to 1964, when Bell Telephone in upstate New York established the first One Call Center as a mechanism to allow contractors to call “Ma Bell” before digging so that telephone plants could be protected. In the 1970s, Bill Kiger formed PA One Call in the Pittsburgh area and before you know it, there were regional meetings popping up and bringing together utility owners, contractors, municipalities, and other project development agencies.

Tremendous progress has been made over the ensuing 50+ years, but the consensus from our panel is that we are not there yet. Our moderator, Jemmie Wang, made it pretty clear that blindly throwing more money at this problem is unlikely to drastically reduce the number of damages. Therefore, an array of potential solutions was offered by our panelists and audience members during this 90-minute discussion, and they broadly fell into these categories.

1. COLLABORATION AND COMMUNICATION: One of the key solutions discussed by our panelists was the need for better collaboration and communication between all stakeholders involved in damage prevention. This includes the utility companies, contractors, locators, and regulators. The panelists suggested that more open communication and sharing of information can help reduce errors, increase efficiency, and prevent damages.

• Lindsay emphasized the fact that safe excavation is not always a simple practice. The complexities are sometimes underestimated. We need to think about these procedures and how we can communicate with stakeholders in a more effective way.

• Steve drew on his military experience and stressed the importance of needing a clear vision and understanding of what we are trying to achieve.

• Itzik brought up the idea that perhaps we need to rebrand and reinvent “damage prevention” to encourage the next generation to get involved.

2. TECHNOLOGY AND INNOVATION: Our panelists emphasized the importance of technology and innovation in improving damage prevention practices. They discussed the need for advanced mapping, tracking tools, among other things.

• Itzik asserted that technology will be our access point to the world below us. We need a digital transformation. We can’t solve digital problems with analog solutions.

• Duane referred to the bottleneck of late locates causing contractors to be delayed. An increase in trained locators would likely help, but the implementation of augmented reality like they are doing in certain parts of the world, such as in parts of France, will be important moving forward.

Another important solution discussed by our panelists was the need for better training and education for all stakeholders involved in damage prevention. The panelists suggested that more comprehensive training programs can help improve the skills and knowledge of workers, reduce errors, and prevent damages.

• According to the DIRT Report, “no notification made to 811 center” remains the top root cause with over a quarter of all damages still attributed to no notification. Duane questioned why that is the case. Are they not aware? Are they lazy? Is it too cumbersome?

• Duane and Lindsay both discussed that contractors having their own trained, internal locators can help relieve the aforementioned bottleneck issue.Town.Hall.Live.Audience

4. STANDARDIZATION AND REGULATION: Our panelists also discussed the need for better standardization and regulation in the damage prevention industry. They suggested that more consistent guidelines and regulations can help ensure that all stakeholders are following best practices and working towards the same goals.

• Lindsay challenged the notion of best practices being the “best” we can do. Being that they are traditionally confirmed by consensus, perhaps they are slightly diluted and should more properly be viewed as minimums and not as the highest and best standard.

• Duane made note of the inefficiencies in the locating process in the United States compared to Australia, which is largely the result of antiquated legislation from the 1970’s.

• Both Lindsay and Steve discussed the importance of processes. For Lindsay, the focus was on maximizing safety through the implementation of effective safety management systems, and for Steve, it was attempting to address “defects” that arise using the principles of Lean Six Sigma.

5. DATA SHARING AND TRANSPARENCY: Lastly, our panelists emphasized the importance of data sharing and transparency in the damage prevention industry. They suggested that more open access to data can help improve collaboration and communication, as well as provide better insights into the effectiveness of current damage prevention practices.

• Itzik challenged the status quo by asking why nobody has yet to set up a centralized place where all the utility info can be stored. Without this data being captured, locators continue to locate the same lines over and over again.

• According to Duane, one of the issues locators run into is that they are not always being given proper notice before a large batch of tickets are on the horizon. This can be the result of utility companies trying to preserve their competitive advantage in terms of upcoming large-scale projects.

This ESA Town Hall highlighted a wide variety of potential solutions for improving damage prevention practices in the United States and around the globe. Although we are not at peak damage prevention yet, we are certainly on the right track and will continue to improve if we implement some of the methods and technologies discussed during this Town Hall. Steve hammered home this point at the conclusion of the Town Hall by stating, “This is possible. It just takes commitment. We can create living maps. This is a combination of technology and process that exists today.” To hear what solutions our audience members proposed and to view the entire Town Hall for yourself, please visit By becoming a free ESA member, you will have access to all previous Town Hall recordings as well as the opportunity to attend all future live, virtual Town Hall events which take place on the second Thursday of each month.

Staff Report


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