Civil Construction

The civil construction industry that Hydro Spy serves is experiencing rapid growth. The discovery of oil and natural gas thousands of years ago changed the landscape of the world forever. Together, they supply 65% of our nation’s energy, which makes for a lot of underground pipe transporting these vital products to our homes and businesses.

Obviously, with this dangerous maze of subsurface infrastructure, traditional methods of excavation are made difficult. Hydro vacuum excavation is increasingly in demand, as more and more contractors are faced with these enormous risks. Quite frankly, backhoe and track hoe operators are reluctant to dig without some tangible certainty that there are no existing utilities within the dig zone.

Theoretically, As-Builts (ABs) and the national One Call system (i.e. call 811 before you dig) are critical but fallible remedies. As Stephen R. Pettee wrote for Cm eJournal, “Most, if not all, construction contractors require the contractor to produce as-built drawings. However, little information is found in industry literature about construction as-builts and the as-builting process.”

As-builts were meant to document subsurface infrastructures as they were built into the ground, so that future contractors had an opportunity to prevent damage to underground utility infrastructure and ensure public safety and environmental protection. The problem is that As-Builts either do not exist or they are not reliable, providing zero safety assurances.

In 2000, the Common Ground Alliance (CGA) launched the national One Call system, “a new, federally-mandated national “Call Before You Dig” number (811) to help protect operators from unintentionally hitting underground utility lines while working on digging projects.

This was a very big step toward pipeline security, but it does not go far enough. What happens after the 811 call is made? According to the information on their website (i.e. call, “When you call 811 from anywhere in the country, your call will be routed to your local One Call Center. Local One Call Center operators will ask you for the location of your digging job and route your call to affected utility companies. Your utility companies will then send a professional locator to your location to mark your lines within a few days. Once your underground lines have been marked, you will know the approximate location of your utility lines and can dig safely, because knowing what’s below protects you and your family.”

In theory, this is how the system should work to protect everyone. The reality, however, is that it presumes that local One Call centers have empirical evidence of all utilities below the surface. I assure you, and any construction contractor will assure you, they do not.

The safest fact is that until you put light on it no one really knows what’s below the surface. Of course, some pipeline owners will know about their own lines under the ground. They can give you some idea where they are and how deep, etc. But ask them for an As-Built, and your confidence in their knowledge of what’s below will sink. Even if they produce As-Builts, what about pipelines or fiber optics that were installed prior to the establishment of the One Call systems or before federal and state regulations mandated the reporting of such information?