This week’s Pipeliners Podcast episode features Sarah Magruder Lyle discussing CGA’s new 50 in 5 call-to-action, why this step was necessary for the industry, and what it will take to see consistent results.
In this episode, you will learn about the three issues that cause 77% of damages, why workers are unable to correctly do their jobs in the field, as well as the history behind 811.
CGA 50 in 5 Show Notes, Links, and Insider Terms:
- Sarah K. Magruder Lyle is President & CEO of the Common Ground Alliance (CGA). Connect on LinkedIn.
- Common Ground Alliance (CGA) is a member-driven organization dedicated to preventing damage to underground utility infrastructure and protecting those who live and work near these important assets through the shared responsibility of its stakeholders.
- Damage Prevention is a concerted effort to maintain public safety through safe digging and excavation activity that is supported by data, resources, and shared information.
- API has made available an Excavation Damage Prevention (EDP) toolbox, which is a collection of damage prevention lessons learned and best practices for pipeline operations.
- 2023 CGA Conference and Expo took place in Orlando, Florida, April 17-21, 2023. The conference is the premier event for damage prevention stakeholders to network, gain knowledge, and learn about the latest industry data and technology.
- The Damage Prevention Institute (DPI) is CGA’s newest arm, which creates an innovative opportunity for the industry to address systemic inefficiencies in the damage prevention process through a metrics-focused, peer-reviewed model of shared accountability that serves all stakeholders.
- CGA’s Damage Information Reporting Tool (DIRT) is a data repository that collects critical information about underground damage and near-miss reports. DIRT data is used to produce targeted recommendations to damage prevention stakeholders about how to best protect buried facilities.
- CGA’s Next Practices Initiative uses industry data, quantitative surveys and stakeholder input to clearly identify and focus the industry on the advancement of the most effective solutions to address critical damage prevention challenges.
- 811 (Contact Before You Dig) is the federally designated contact-before-you-dig number, designed to make the notification step of the safe excavation process as easy as possible. A person is required to contact 811 at least a few days before beginning any excavation or digging projects to allow time for locators to mark the approximate location of any buried infrastructure before excavation begins. Prior to the implementation of 811, people who dug had to know one call center’s 800 numbers, or notify utilities individually.
- GIS (Geographic Information System) is a system designed to capture, store, manipulate, analyze, manage, and present spatial or geographic data.
- IIJA (H.R. 3684 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act) also called the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law or BIL, includes a program to fund the repair, replacement, and rehabilitation of existing pipeline infrastructure, in addition to certain equipment purchases. Participation in the program is limited to municipally or community-owned utilities.
CGA 50 in 5 Full Episode Transcript:
Russel Treat: Welcome to the Pipeliners Podcast, episode 284. Sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute, driving safety, environmental protection, and sustainability across the natural gas and oil industry through world class standards and safety programs.
Since its formation as a standard setting organization in 1919, API has developed more than 800 standards to enhance industry operations worldwide. Find out more about API at API.org.
Narrator: The Pipeliners Podcast, where professionals, Bubba Geeks, and industry insiders share their knowledge and experience about technology, projects, and pipeline operations. And now your host, Russel Treat.
Russel: Thanks for listening to the Pipeliners Podcast. I appreciate you taking the time, and to show that appreciation, we give away a customized YETI tumbler to one listener every episode. This week, our winner is Brad Walker with BAW Architecture. Congratulations, Brad. Your YETI’s on its way.
To learn how you can win this signature prize, stick around till the end of the episode. This week, Sarah Magruder Lyle, with the Common Ground Alliance, returns to talk about the CGA’s 50 in 5 initiative. Sarah, welcome back to the Pipeliners Podcast.
Sarah Magruder Lyle: Hey, there. Thanks so much for having me again.
Russel: Well, look, I wanted to reach out. It’s been a while since we’ve talked, and there has been a lot going on. Why don’t you give us just a quick update? What’s happened with you guys since the last time we talked about damage prevention?
Sarah: Well, since we talked about damage prevention last time, we’ve had two very successful conferences. We just got back from the 2023 CGA Conference and Expo, which included a sold out number of attendees, over 1,200. There was a tremendous amount of energy there.
Lots of excellent discussions about how we’re going to make real concrete progress in reducing damages. Certainly, one of those pieces is our most recently announced challenge to the industry to reduce damages by 50 percent over the next 5 years. The board was really excited about issuing this challenge.
We’re at a real inflection point in the industry, and the ability to lay a marker down and energize the industry to take that next step through technology, through innovation, and through real collaborative work and not just shared responsibility, which is something that CGA is founded on, but shared accountability as well.
In addition, last year, we stood up the Damage Prevention Institute. It’s CGA’s newest arm. It is metrics focused. To participate in the Damage Prevention Institute, you need to be a CGA member. What this really allows us to do is look at data and do additional analytics, look at the systemic challenges that excavators, locators, and facility handlers may be having.
And, how do we help change a system that is decades old that we’re still using into a system that incentives innovation, technology, and doing the right thing to help us reduce damages and move towards that 50 percent reduction in 5 years?
Russel: Well, that’s a lot, Sarah. That’s a big bite of the apple, if you will. Talk to us also a little bit about Gold Shovel and what’s going on there.
Sarah: The Gold Shovel is not an organization anymore. We acquired Gold Shovel at the beginning of this year.
In the interest of shared accountability and shared responsibility, we brought all of those members over, the vast majority of which were excavators, and we’re looking at, again, a holistic set of metrics to look at, not only the excavator’s performance, but the locator’s performance, and the operator’s performance, and the opportunity to get feedback from the One Call centers.
We have 16 stakeholder groups. While there are certainly three key ones, there are a lot of other stakeholder groups that are important in this calculation. Being able to bring them in and make it a more holistic assessment of what’s happening was very important to our membership.
The excavator is the only person on the job site that can do everything they’re supposed to do and still cause damage. We really have to think about why the system is set up where they can still fail, even if they do everything they’re supposed to do.
Russel: Yeah, that’s actually a quite deep topic. It’s really interesting, and a good thing frankly, that Golden Shovel and Common Ground Alliance are now a single organization, because there is a lot of value in having broader reach and deeper tentacles, if you will, into these various stakeholder groups, particularly with the excavators.
The excavators are, in this case, they’re the pointy end of the spear because if we can do everything else and if we never dig, we never have a problem, but we have to dig.
Sarah: One of the interesting pieces of this puzzle is, when we established our Next Practices Initiative, which I don’t think was part of our effort when you and I spoke last time, the Damage Prevention Institute has really been set up to say we have to look at the system. What are the systemic changes we need to make?
If you look at what we found in our focus groups and our research with the Damage Prevention Institute, plus the white papers we’ve done on excavators, locators, and natural gas distribution, plus our DIRT data, there are three major causes of these damages.
Almost 77 percent of our damages are caused by the same three issues. That’s a real challenge that we need to take a hard look at and address. No notification…
Russel: What are those three issues?
Sarah: No notification. You didn’t call 811. Which is, as we know, has been a very persistent challenging issue for some time. Even with the advent of 811. Not calling 811, failure by excavator to maintain clearance in pothole, and failure by locator to mark accurately or on time. While we certainly focus on the excavator a lot, the locator is a critical part of this process.
When we’re talking about marking accurately, if we’re not giving them the data they need to do that good mapping, the ability to take their time in the field to make sure they’re doing things the way they’re supposed to do, we are setting the system up for failure.
One of the big challenges that we are trying to address is, how do we get a GIS based mapping system in place where excavators and locators can have a point of access to look at mapping and ensure that they are doing what they’re supposed to be doing and that we are arming them with the information they need to do a good job?
When you talk about locators also from an on time perspective, the locating industry is the only industry I’m aware of that if you call them and say I need either 100 locates today or 1,000, they’re still supposed to do them within the required time. If you call the doctor’s office and they don’t have a spot for you, they’re going to tell you to wait until next week.
There are a lot of processes here that we can streamline to help move this process along. It becomes a vicious cycle because if an excavator’s in an area where the locating is not reliable and the locating isn’t on time…For a variety of reasons, right? Maybe there is a major installation going in or there is a workforce shortage, which many parts of the industry are saying.
Excavators may tend to call in more jobs because they need someplace to put their crew. They don’t want to lose time. They don’t want to have an idle crew. Time is money. That actually has a counterproductive impact because they’re actually trying to get the locator to do more work, which then leads to more challenges.
Russel: It’s interesting. That’s a really good problem description. I think it’s fascinating that three reasons is why we’re having 77 percent of the damage. I mean the good news in that truth is that that means there is a real opportunity to improve by focusing on just a few things. That’s actually helpful.
Russel: It’s not like you got off focus on 15 things. You got to focus on these 3, and we’re going to see the needle move. That’ll get tougher over time, but that’s actually a good thing.
Sarah: The low hanging fruit has been gone for a long time. These three buckets are made up of six root causes. Those root causes have been the top six root causes for some time. Sometimes number three is number four, and number five is number three, but the one that never changes is failure to notify, and the other ones have been in that top six for some time.
They all fall into those three big buckets. We have the technology. I mean, this isn’t a problem that we have to wait for technology to catch up with us to fix it. We need to implement the technology we have to fix it.
Part of it is just getting all of the players together to say, yes, we can do this, and yes, it’s going to be different, and we’re going to have to try some things, and we’re going to succeed at some, and we’re not going to have the success we want with others, but we have to move forward. We can’t keep using a decades old process to address these challenges.
Russel: No doubt. There has got to be an opportunity to apply technology more effectively and have that be a key part of the improvement that we’re looking for. Let’s come back and talk about the 50 in 5. I love it. It’s catchy.
Sarah: That it is.
Russel: It’s obviously a worthy goal. I guess my question is, how are you going to get that done?
Sarah: Well, again, if you look at those three buckets, you’ve already said it. None of them are insurmountable. We have to look at why it’s not happening. No notification for the professional excavator. You’re going to be hard pressed to find a professional excavator that doesn’t know they’re supposed to call. The challenge is, why aren’t they? That’s what we have to deal with.
We know that the locator knows what they’re supposed to do, but why aren’t they able to do their job effectively? That’s what we have to address. An excavator knows they’re supposed to maintain clearance in pothole. Why aren’t they potholing?
We are now at a stage where we have to address why. We have to continue to do education, but if it’s not being implemented, then the education is for naught.
Russel: Yeah, because really, what we’re trying to do is change behavior.
Sarah: That’s right. Especially given the amount of money that’s being put into undergrounding infrastructure right now. Between money from state coffers, the bipartisan Infrastructure and Investment Act, all of those are…There is a huge surge one money coming into this movement to underground.
If we don’t arm those who are doing the job with the tools they need to be successful, we would certainly expect to see damages increase. They have been flat slightly increasing over the past several years. We’re talking about a major influx of money into that system. We also have some players now who are not…
Pipelines, we’ve been undergrounding those for a long time, but now, we’ve got fiber and power. Public works, they bury their stuff relatively deep versus everything else, and so, they’re going through everybody else’s assets. We have to set up a system that makes everybody successful.
Russel: Certainly, that’s true. It’s interesting if you look at just in neighborhoods these days and what the practice is for new construction, I mean, almost everything is being buried these days. You just don’t see overhead power lines, telephone lines, and all that. It’s all underground.
Sarah: It’s a reliability issue. It’s a resiliency issue. If these states are going to spend these dollars to underground these assets so that they’re better protected and the reliability is better, particularly in areas that have hurricanes, natural disasters, fires, we don’t want to bury them and then have to have an emergency response because somebody’s had an inadvertent dig-in.
Because it’s not easy. You’ve got to get a backhoe out there. You’ve got to dig it up. You’ve got to block a street off, shut a school down, shut businesses down, roll trucks, get first responders. It’s not an easy fix when you do that. If we’re going to spend all this money for liability, we definitely want to mitigate these inadvertent dig-ins as much as we can.
Russel: For sure. What other kinds of things are going to be required to achieve the 50 in 5?
Sarah: I alluded to this a moment ago. CGA’s always been founded on shared responsibility, but we’re going to have to be accountable to each other. All of the stakeholders have to acknowledge and commit to the fact that what they do or don’t do impacts the entire damage prevention process. That is something that we’re going to keep advocating for.
We have to be able to work together and say, yes, mapping benefits everybody. Certainly, there are some concerns about security, however, those can be mitigated.
We have the technology to do it, but we should be giving the people who have a valid ticket with a valid reason to have access to the information they need on a job site to protect the assets that are already there while they’re working on an underground utility.
It makes economic sense. It makes safety sense. We really need to rethink that. What is the assessment we’re doing about risk and reward?
Russel: As I listen to you talk, Sarah, this is always my experience when we talk, but as I listen to you talk, I’m thinking about the idea of shared responsibility, shared accountability, and how do you actually affect that. One of the things about this area of conversation is just the sheer numbers of people that are involved.
If you talk about all of the other operators of underground utilities and all of the excavators who do that type of work, just that population, that is a very large population.
Sarah: It is, but that cannot be the reason that we don’t start. We have to have a starting point, and we have to be able to show that we can do it and that it’s successful. If we had had that attitude about implementing 811, it would not have been successful either.
Right now, there is definitely a different energy and a different momentum in the damage prevention space. That’s illustrated by the 1,200 people that showed up at our conference to talk about what’s next. What are we going to measure? How are we going to measure it? What can we do to help? What can our company do?
The potential is visible and there. At this time, the damage prevention industry is ready to take that challenge on.
Russel: It might be helpful to talk a little bit about the history of 811 because it’s a success story. 811, when it started, everybody was…The level of understanding that, not just we as an industry but just the public in general have about 811 is radically different than when it started.
Russel: What’s that history, and what did it take to get 811 to the point it had traction?
Sarah: It took everybody holding hands together and saying, this is going to work. That originated from a congressionally mandated study where there were a lot of pipeline damages happening. It was a problem. 811, once it was implemented, there were certainly a lot of challenges getting the One Call center set up in the states, but once they were there, damages went down 50 percent.
Just by the implementation of a One Call center. We’re all human, and we tend to not like change. However, that change was significant. Now, it’s time to take the next step and make the next big change in the industry. When 811 was created, we certainly didn’t have cell phones that we carried around in our pocket.
They may have been being carried around in bags by some people, but texting, web tickets, none of that was available. We’re still using an antiquated system and the technology has actually moved faster than the system. It’s a huge opportunity, but we have to look forward and look in the windshield and not in the rearview mirror, and we can’t just say, “Well we’ve never done that before.”
Russel: Absolutely. We have to embrace it, but I also think it’s important to understand what the challenge is so that you know what you’re dealing with and what needs to happen in order to get there. I do want to ask one other question. You talked about it as we first started.
That is the board for CGA. What kind of folks are on the board, and what is the role of the board as it relates to the mission of the CGA?
Sarah: Well, it’s funny you say that. The board is the one that actually brought this 50 in 5 suggestion to me. Our board is made up of executives that represent each of our stakeholder groups. All 16 of our stakeholder groups have a seat on the board. Excavators, locators, One Call centers, gas distribution, oil, gas transmission, emergency responders, insurance, telecom, public works.
I’m sure I’m missing a couple, but you get the point. We have stakeholder representative meetings at our conferences so that we can talk about the specific issues impacting those industries, but also, that industry’s impact on the broader industry that they’re involved in, which is the damage prevention industry.
Russel: Interesting. That is a big board, but I can see why it needs to be that size because of just the number of stakeholder groups that are impacted by what you guys do.
Sarah: That’s right.
Russel: I would assume that what they’re trying to do is they’re evaluating strategy, they’re evaluating programs, and really trying to determine, are we moving the needle, and how do we need to play together as a team?
Sarah: That’s right. That is part of why this 50 in 5 challenge is so important, because all of the stakeholders are behind this. Everybody understands that we have to do it together.
Russel: That is a compelling mission statement and a worthy one for sure. How would somebody like me doing what I’m doing with the Pipeliners Podcast, how could I help you guys accomplish that because that’s a worthy mission?
Sarah: Well, what you’re doing right now is certainly helpful and helping us get the word out about what we’re doing. We have a lot of broadcasters come to our conferences and our summits to talk about these things. We actually had some interesting visitors while we were in Orlando for the 2023 conference and expo.
We actually had a dig demo discuss area outside where we actually showcased some of the equipment used when we’re doing underground construction, particularly hydrovacs, what it looks like to expose a line, and really tried to show everybody what all parts of that system are now and have the potential to be.
The more that people like you can help us get that message out and talk about this systemic…It’s a systemic opportunity. It’s not just a systemic challenge. The more people that we can get to say, yes we can do this, the better off we will all be.
Russel: Absolutely. As we wrap up our conversation here, are there any parting remarks you’d like to make to pipeliners about what you’re doing with CGA?
Sarah: Particularly to pipeliners, as somebody that comes from the oil and gas industry, we want to protect those assets. We want to protect the oil and gas assets, and all the other assets that are underground, whether you’re putting yours in or somebody else is putting in their assets around yours.
In order to do that, we all have to think about ourselves as part of the damage prevention industry.
Certainly, oil and gas is the most heavily regulated of our stakeholder groups, but that gives them the opportunity to be a leader in this area. I would encourage you pipeliners out there listening to be the leader, be the innovator, and help us get to this 50 in 5 reduction.
Russel: I think that’s a great place to end it. Thanks so much for coming on board and catching us up. Hope to see you in person at one of the trade shows we’re going to be having this spring.
Sarah: Great. Thanks so much.
Russel: I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode of the Pipeliners Podcast and our conversation with Sarah. Just a reminder before you go, you should register to win our customized Pipeliners Podcast YETI tumbler. Simply visit PipelinePodcastNetwork.com/Win and enter yourself in the drawing.
If you’d like to support the podcast, please leave us a review. You can do that on Apple Podcast, Google Play, wherever you happen to listen. If you have ideas, questions, or topics you’d be interested in, please let me know in the Contact Us page at PipelinePodcastNetwork.com, or reach out to me on LinkedIn. Thanks for listening. I’ll talk to you next week.
Transcription by CastingWords