Global ESC 2023 Summits

Panelists from Fiber Optic Asset Protection Summit: Infrastructure Bill - Discussing the Unknowns

Fiber Optic Asset Protection Summit: Infrastructure Bill - Discussing the Unknowns

Moderator: Christopher McDermott, AT&T
Shane Bryan, Ritter Communications
George Kemp, MetroNet
Andrea Stainback, Lumen

One of the main issues discussed during the summit was the increased strain on notification centers due to an influx of tickets. In 2022, a center in the northern United States saw an increase of 25,000 tickets in one month compared to the same month the year prior. Damages have also seen a spike in some areas. Christopher expressed surprise at the magnitude of fiber cuts, stating, "I truly did not expect a 110% increase in the amount of fiber cuts on my long-haul network." The backlog of tickets has also led to some communication challenges between locators and contractors. In the midst of these challenges, there is an opportunity to upgrade the nation's aging infrastructure. As Shane noted, "It's a race to get it into the ground as fast as possible before your competitor gets it in the ground right in front of you." Some fiber lines are nearly 40 years old, and the Infrastructure Bill provides a chance to modernize this critical aspect of our telecommunications networks.

To address the issue of demand peaks, more efficient ways of inputting tickets into the system were discussed by some members of the audience. Communication and coordination were identified as key factors in overcoming obstacles. George went beyond just “communication” and emphasized the need to "build empathy and be able to understand the other person's point of view." Micro-trenching has emerged as a popular solution for fiber deployment in metropolitan areas, but it presents its own set of challenges. While the upfront cost may be lower, maintenance can be both difficult and costly. The panelists also discussed the shift from aerial fiber to underground deployment going forward. The majority of poles in the United States are at max capacity, prompting a transition from 60-70% aerial and 30-40% underground to the inverse in the near future.

Andrea reminded attendees, "We need to continue to think about safety first, we never want to put people in harm." As the industry races to expand and modernize fiber networks, it is crucial not to overlook safety considerations. The Fiber Optic Asset Protection Summit provided valuable insights into the challenges and opportunities presented by the Infrastructure Bill. As the industry moves forward, it must prioritize communication, coordination, and safety to capitalize on the potential for growth and modernization.

Water & Sewer Infrastructure Protection Summit: Establishing Communication Between Locators and Excavators

Moderator: John Neilson, Waterworks District #1
• Dan Bigman, Bigman Geophysical
• Robert Edwards, Citizens Energy Group
• Jay Hemley, City of Tacoma
• Rick Vincent, City of Tampa

John opened the summit by highlighting the importance of water and sewer infrastructure, stating, "Damaged water and sewer lines might not grab the headlines as much as other utilities, but water is the only thing we cannot live without." The panel discussed the potential "perfect storm" of the fiber optic boom combined with aging water and sewer infrastructure, which could lead to a dramatic spike in damages. A key theme of the summit was the value of communication between all parties involved. Situations have occurred where crews were sent out to excavate where no lines were ever marked. This delays projects and wastes excavators’ time. However, Rick acknowledged the need for excavators to improve their practices as well, stating, "I don’t want to blame it all on the locators, because we can do better too." He noted that sometimes excavators call in locates but don't complete projects within the allotted time, causing locators to return multiple times.

Jay shared his experience of working closely with locators, explaining that he is on a first-name basis with many of them. Jay also emphasized that this close relationship creates a safer workplace and helps avoid damages. Dan suggested that project site surface conditions should dictate the markings used, but beyond just effective communication via paint and/or flags, it was reiterated that having firsthand institutional knowledge from locators and utility representatives by keeping the line of communication open is the true difference maker. The panelists agreed that open communication is essential to prevent accidents and ensure the safe execution of projects. They also reinforced that important communications are already being triggered by the notification system itself, such as if the proposed project is within close proximity to high-profile utility assets.

Robert shared his approach to education, stating, "Each year I send damage prevention training information to contractors that have damaged our water lines." This practice helps educate contractors and reinforces the importance of following proper procedures. They discussed various strategies to foster better communication, such as having toolbox talks with out-of-state contractors, and providing multiple contacts to locators so that there is always someone they can reach. The Water & Sewer Infrastructure Protection Summit emphasized the critical role of communication between locators and excavators. As John aptly put it, "What we have is a failure to communicate." By fostering open communication, providing appropriate training, and sharing knowledge, the industry can mitigate risks and protect our essential water and sewer systems.

Notification Center Summit: What Makes a One Call Law Fair and Effective?

Moderator: Susan Bohl, OKIE811
• Sandy Holmes, Arizona 811
• John Sparks, Texas811
• Mike Sullivan, Utility Safety Partners

Building on the Excavation Safety Alliance Town Hall held on July 14, 2022, the discussion focused on the importance of enforcement, fairness, and communication among stakeholders involved in the One Call process. Mike emphasized that "legislation has to be logical," while Sandy stated that "if there is going to be a requirement on an excavator, there should be an equal, contrasting requirement for the facility owner." The panelists agreed that enforcement of One Call laws varies across states and that laws without enforcement are merely guidelines. A key aspect of effective legislation is the equality of reciprocity, as Mike highlighted.

The panelists discussed several aspects of fairness, such as facility owners being obligated to notify excavators if marks are delayed and that excavators should be able to bill for their downtime. They also touched upon the importance of not overburdening the system with unnecessary marks or requesting emergency tickets when they are not truly needed. Arizona's Locate Resolution Partnership was cited as an example of a successful initiative that brings together stakeholders, including excavators, facility owners, contract locators, engineers, and enforcement agencies, for open dialogue and problem-solving. John pointed out that One Call centers do not create laws but play a vital role in educating lawmakers. Sandy indicated that there has been a national shift away from a single source of enforcement towards enforcement boards, composed of cross-sections of stakeholders, to better meet the expectations of federal agencies.

The panelists also discussed the potential benefits of allowing excavators to perform their own locates, which could help alleviate the problem of late locates. This approach may require more flexible legislation that doesn't demand specific locating and marking practices. A significant theme in the conversation was the importance of communication between excavators and facility owners. Building positive responses or two-way communication can lead to better outcomes and improved relationships among stakeholders. Emergency locate tickets were described as a "handshake agreement" that don't receive much vetting. Repeated abuse of calling in emergency locates when they are not warranted can result in facility owners charging excavators for the cost of the locate, an area identified as ripe for improvement. Overall, the summit emphasized the need for fair and effective One Call laws that promote equality and reciprocity. Improved enforcement, open communication among stakeholders, and flexible legislation that allows for innovative solutions are key to ensuring the safety and efficiency of the One Call process.

Electric Safety Summit: What Are the Best Practices for Preventing Damage to Electric Cables Above and Below Ground?

Moderator: Cliff Meidl, Cliff Meidl Enterprises, LLC
• Glen "Cookie" Cook, Electrical Safety Consultant
• Kelley Heinz, ComEd
• Brandy Kitchel, Georgia Power/Georgia 811 Board
• Lisa McKnight, City of Lawrenceville

Cliff began the summit by highlighting the significance of electric accidents in the United States, pointing out that they remain one of the leading causes of workplace fatalities, according to OSHA. Lisa added that “we don’t have many electrical damages, but when we do, they are major." Kelley emphasized the role of public outreach and education in reducing damages, stating, "Public outreach and education play a big factor in reducing those damages." Brandy stressed the importance of broad awareness of overhead lines, praising the 811 system for its success in increasing safety awareness related to underground utilities and noting, "We need to have similar broad awareness of overhead lines because they are just as dangerous."

Glen stressed the importance of visually verifying cable locations before digging, asserting, "You have to lay eyes on the cable before you can use machinery." Discussing international perspectives was also a big focus; the panel cited Australia as an example where the ratio of overhead to underground electrical contacts is 25 to 1, largely due to the agricultural sector’s trucks encountering powerlines. Australia has started using ROTAMARKA Power Line Markers, which offer an effective visual warning to alert drivers of surrounding power lines. Public awareness campaigns, such as Los Angeles' "Look Up, Look Out" and informative applications, such as Australia's "Look Up and Live," have focused on overhead line safety as well. Australia's "Look Up and Live" app specifically helps to promote adequate planning and safe working requirements near powerlines. The panel stressed the importance of situational awareness, particularly when people contact overhead powerlines with their vehicles.

In such cases, the safest course of action is to stay in the vehicle and call for emergency services. Glen reiterated that point by providing these steps, “STAY in the vehicle, CALL emergency services, and WAIT for help.” In conclusion, the Electric Safety Summit highlighted the importance of public education, situational awareness, and international cooperation in developing best practices. The panelists also agreed that the key to their damage prevention programs is promoting safe work practices and behaviors, as well as auditing those safety programs already in place. Actively observing compliance with those plans is crucial. By learning from each other and implementing robust safety measures, stakeholders can work together to minimize the risk of accidents and fatalities involving electric cables.

Global Locate Summit: How Can Every Role, Including Yours, Influence On-Time Locates?

Moderator: Scott Landes, Infrastructure Resources
• Hannibal Dennis, Vannguard Utility Partners, Inc.
• Jess Miller, Northern Lights Locating
• Matthew Wolf, ImpulseRadar

A significant topic during the panel discussion was the importance of communication between all parties involved in the locating process. Scott emphasized that open dialogue between stakeholders leads to better outcomes, stating, "There is no loser when everybody talks. Everybody comes out ahead." Jess noted, "There has been a level of distrust over the years between locators and contractors." The panelists emphasized that fostering better communication and collaboration could help alleviate this mistrust. Effective communication includes early notice for large projects, which allows locating companies to increase staffing and ramp up training accordingly. The panelists mentioned that pre-construction meetings, involving coordination between municipalities, utility owners, locators, and contractors, are beneficial for having everyone on the same page before the project starts.

Efficient workflows also play a crucial role in achieving on-time locates. Matthew highlighted the significance by stating, "The key is training and building efficiency into the day that the technician is out there." Hannibal proposed an approach to improve efficiency: "The best thing any One Call center can do is a midnight ticket." This would allow utility locators to route themselves efficiently without chasing incoming tickets during the day. Streamlining the process with ticket management software, locating devices, and making GIS platforms accessible to utility locators can contribute to increased efficiency as well. The panelists addressed the need for updated technology, such as increasing the utilization of ground penetrating radar and the implementation of augmented reality. They also briefly discussed the misconception that ground penetrating radar is too complicated or time-consuming.

In addition, the panelists highlighted the challenges posed by staffing issues, finding qualified personnel, and addressing profit incentives that might bog down the system. Some utilities have even begun taking locating back inhouse due to contract locating companies being unable to keep up with demand. The panelists agreed that while communication is vital, it should not be the sole answer. Instead, they argued for a combination of efficient workflows, advanced technology, and streamlined processes to achieve on-time locates and improve the overall system. Scott also mentioned that reaching C-suite level executives would be essential to make a difference in the industry. By fostering collaboration between stakeholders and addressing the challenges faced by the industry, it is possible to improve the locating process and contribute to a safer and more efficient system.

Pipeline Safety & Awareness Summit: Where Are You in the Evolution of PSMS?

Moderator: Kesley Tweed, Pipeline Association for Public Awareness (PAPA)
• Tina Beach, CHS
• Scotty Davis, Colonial Pipeline
• Jim Francis, ENTRUST Solutions
• Tim Teel, Summit Utilities

Pipeline Safety Management Systems (PSMS) are a systematic and deliberate approach to improving the safety of workforce assets and the public through a focus on risk management and mitigation. The panelists emphasized the importance of executing the process effectively and applying quality management principles. Jim advised companies starting with PSMS to “start with risk management and figure out where your risks are." The panelists addressed questions such as how to improve safety, assess the effectiveness of measures, and ensure meaningful changes are taking place. A common theme throughout the discussion was continuous improvement. Tim stressed the significance of building relationships and direct communication to prevent complacency around hitting gas lines: "It’s impactful to make people ambassadors for 811 and the damage prevention process." Scotty shared examples of continuous improvement at Colonial Pipeline, including implementing weekly fixedwing aerial patrols, AI software-assisted photo analysis, and overhauling numerous procedures to enhance the program's effectiveness.

Tina highlighted the importance of engaging stakeholders at all levels and in all communities: "It’s not just about the compliance component, but am I connecting with those people who work and live near our pipeline." The panelists underscored the importance of progress over perfection, emphasizing that incremental improvements are crucial in PSMS implementation. They also acknowledged the growing trend of utility operators engaging contractors as partners in PSMS, fostering a culture of safety through tailgate talks and safety meetings. As Tim pointed out, "You are only as good as your worst contractor."

In terms of technology, the panelists discussed the role of AI in risk models and how its continuous development will help predict and minimize risks more effectively in the future. They also stressed the importance of keeping the PSMS process simple and not overly complicated, especially for smaller organizations. The panelists highlighted the voluntary nature of PSMS and how demonstrating the effectiveness of a system in maintaining safety and reliability can help gain buy-in from upper management. Tina emphasized the critical role of data in this process: "You don’t manage what you are not tracking, so you have to know your data. Data is critical to getting buy-in and moving forward." By implementing the principles of risk management, continuous improvement, effective communication and fostering collaboration between stakeholders, the industry can work towards a safer and more reliable future.

Excavator Perspective Summit: How Are Contractors Having Success in Preventing Utility Damage?

Moderator: Wayne Jensen, Stahl & Associates
• Sharon Beck, TECO Peoples Gas
• Don Campbell, The Kearney Companies
• Joe Grosklos, USIC
• Kevin McLaughlin, Rowland, Inc.

The summit discussed the challenges and best practices in preventing utility damages during excavation projects. Wayne explained the importance of collaboration and communication from the start by saying, "We've been running a damage prevention partnership where we gather together on a monthly basis talking about what we can do to work together with the utilities and contractors to make sure both of us get what we need." Our panelists emphasized the role of communication in reducing frustration, which Wayne identified as a leading cause of damages. Establishing open lines of communication from the beginning can greatly decrease frustration and help avert utility damages.

Kevin shared a recent experience where his crew encountered an unmarked utility, which caused a three-day delay in the project. Quick solutions to such situations are crucial to maintain productivity and positive relationships between contractors and facility owners. Joe illustrated the impact of individual actions with a story about a utility locator, on his way home from work, who helped a contractor who was struggling to find a line. This simple act of kindness and cooperation can make a significant difference in preventing utility damages. Don described how involving the safety department in the ticketing process at The Kearney Companies has improved their approach to damage prevention. By recognizing that damage prevention is inherently a safety issue, they have been able to create a more effective and integrated strategy. Sharon explained that TECO's damage prevention coordinators now operate in the field instead of the office. Their primary objective is to ensure proper locating and safe excavation practices around their gas lines. She shared an example of an excavator who hit a gas line and how the focus on education and safety helped the traumatized worker learn from the experience.

The discussion highlighted the fact that 99% of One Call tickets are performed without any damages. The panelists agreed that standard toolbox meetings may not be as effective as they could be and that engagement with field crews is essential. Acknowledging and celebrating positive outcomes, such as successful excavations without damages, can encourage better practices and communication. Don further emphasized the importance of safety by stating, “Everybody needs to go home the way they came." By fostering a culture of open communication, ongoing education, and safety awareness, contractors can achieve greater success in preventing utility damages during excavation projects.

Staff Report


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