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Late Locates: A Current and Emerging Crisis

Late Locate Analysis Highlights:

  • Data from seven states shows that as many as 56% of tickets receive late or no positive response, meaning work cannot legally start.
  • Telecommunications and water/sewer operators have higher late response rates.
  • Telecommunications work is most impacted by late responses.
  • Some operators/locators mark sites on time but delay updating positive response systems.
  • Excavators report inaccurate status codes, including those indicating sites are marked when they are not.

Late, absent and incorrect utility locates are a well-established challenge in the damage prevention industry, and one that must be addressed to meet our 50-in-5 industry challenge. To augment findings from CGA’s Locator White Paper and DIRT data, we sourced additional information to get a clearer picture of the state of locating across the U.S.

CGA analyzed data from seven states with mandatory positive response to determine the percentages of “on time” locates, i.e., by the stated work start date and time, the excavator has received notices from all operators on a locate ticket that the marks are completed, or that they are clear. The states represented a diverse array of total transmissions, geography and response requirements. This sample group made up approximately 17% of incoming notices and 14% of outgoing transmissions in the U.S.

Our analysis of state-level positive response data showed that as often as 56% of the time, excavators could not legally begin work on their planned start date. Telecommunications and water/sewer operators had the highest late response rates, and telecom projects saw the most impact because of late or missing locates. Examining the structure of enforcement and locate contracts could help drive better compliance. Interestingly, although locators mark sites on time in some instances, delays in updating positive response systems can still leave excavators uncertain if their work can proceed. Better field technologies could enable quicker status updates.
As often as 56% of the time, excavators may not be able to legally begin work on a ticket.

A closer look at locate data from one excavator indicated that about 30% of tickets received response codes from all operators on time with no problems, and also noted telecom as the most frequent late responders. This data also indicated that some positive response codes were dubious, such as unsuccessful attempts to contact the excavator, agreed-upon due date extensions and completed markings when none were present.

More consistent data collection across states and 811 centers would enable better analysis of this issue. Further research on late locates is needed to fully understand their impact – but current evidence shows timely, truthful facility locating is fundamental to preventing underground utility hits and restoring confidence in the entire system. Clear communication, accountability via enforcement and contracts with third-party locators, and technologies promoting real-time status updates are key to solving chronic lateness issues.

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