Underground Assets

Streamlining the Call-Before-You-Dig Process
By Bill Kiger | Published April 17, 2013

FIGURE 1. Designers of large projects are often presented with unique challenges – including those that lie beneath the earth’s surface, such as underground cables.


DESIGNERS OF LARGE PROJECTS, SUCH AS A HIGHWAY expansion, a new shopping mall, a sewer or water line upgrade project, or a gas line replacement, are often presented with unique challenges – including those that lie beneath the earth’s surface. Although not seen from a casual, above-ground glance, there is a world of assets and critical infrastructure that exist underground.

When new projects are in the early phases of development, it is vital to take into consideration where underground facilities are located in order to protect them or to alter the design plans to minimize disruption to existing infrastructure. See Figure1 for cables buried underground. The Pennsylvania One Call law has a Subsurface Utility Engineering (SUE) requiremen for projects exceeding $400,000. Satisfying this request is challenging at best.

To mitigate the risk of damaging any underground assets, designers are required by Pennsylvania law to present project plans to facility owners before the final design is sent to bid for construction. Facility owners include electric, water and gas utilities, phone and cable networks, oil and gas pipelines, fiber optic lines, etc. Facility owners then review the plans to indicate precisely where the underground infrastruc- tures are located; historically, the process of exchanging and marking the plans was accomplished by mailing paper plots, taking at least 30 business days from start to finish.

The Process

This extensive process began with a designer (architect or engineer) completing an online design ticket to create the notification that would be sent to facility owners to determine whether an underground facility conflict existed. The design ticket often included a detailed identification of the designer and project owner, the approximate location and a description of the proposed excavation project.


Upon receipt of the design ticket, and if the project appeared to present an underground facility conflict, each facility owner would request a copy of the detailed design plans from the designer. Once facility owners received the design plans via U.S. mail, they would review them, hand- mark the location of underground infrastructure, and mail them back so that the designer could show the layout of the facilities and modify the plans to not interfere with existing infrastructure. Designers and facility owners relied on marking paper maps by hand, which could compromise the accuracy, and the time-consuming process of mailing copies between the two parties also hindered the process.

The process was expensive, labor- and time-intensive, and hand-drawn locations of underground facilities on paper plans were imprecise with no standardized record keeping of activities or communications. It was also difficult for facility owners to definitively confirm whether design plans actually conflicted with existing underground infrastructure and to prove that they met their obligations as required by law.

We knew there had to be a more precise and innovative way for managing this process.

Simplifying the Process with TerraGo GeoPDF Maps and Imagery

Our organization is the ‘811 - Call Before You Dig’ non- profit for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, commonly referred to as the Pennsylvania One Call System, or POCS. Our mission is to prevent damage to underground facilities such as buried pipes, cables and lines by connecting designers and excavators with facility owners.

Since excavators are legally obligated to notify underground facility owners of their intent to dig, we are the de facto organization for handling more than 700,000 notifications, or “tickets” from excavators. We also send 5 million “tickets” to more than 3,500 underground facility owner locations annually.

Since we handle such a high volume of notifications each year, we sought to eliminate the single most important barrier to streamlining the process – 

The complete article is available in the Winter 2013 Digital Edition of LBx Journal.