Digging up DIRT

I ran across the DIRT Report [pdf, 4.7 MB] last week. DIRT stands for “Damage Information Reporting Tool” and it is produced by the Common Ground Alliance (CGA), an association of companies that engage in underground construction. In other words, CGA members dig up dirt.

How does this relate to telecom? Well, when CGA members are digging, they want to dig up dirt, not buried infrastructure that gets in their way, infrastructure such as natural gas pipelines, water and sewer lines, electrical wires, or telecom cables and fibre.

For years, we have been trying to teach people to “Call Before You Dig” to arrange free locate services. In Ontario, the service bureau is “Ontario One Call”. Different areas may have different points of contact, but as a matter of general practice, if you contact any local electric, phone or gas company, they will put you in touch with the single number or website to arrange for all the underground services to be marked BEFORE you start digging.

CGA has an interactive version of its DIRT report that allows easy examination of data by province or state.

The report shows that overall, about a quarter of all damage is caused by work being done without people calling first. Despite all the work to build awareness, three out of five times, it is professional excavators at fault for not calling, not home gardeners.

I looked at the report and isolated Canadian telecom. In 2021 (the latest year reported), there were 4,255 damage reports, down 240 from 2020 (4,495), and more than 10% less than 2019 (4,840). About 5% (222) were caused by the occupants. More than half (2,375) were on the customer drops, about a third (1,436) were damage to distribution facilities, and just over 1% (55) were reported damage to transmission lines. Keep in mind that damage to transmission lines can impact a far larger number of customers.

When I looked at damage to natural gas and propane lines, in Canada there were 2,197 in 2021, of which around 20% were caused by the occupants. Apparently, professional contractors dig up gas lines even when there is a risk of blowing themselves up.

Frequent readers know that I have always had a special level of respect for the people who actually build and maintain our telecom networks, doing the physical work constructing, maintaining and repairing outside plant: towers, antennas, plowing and drilling for cables and fibre, installing and climbing poles.

That is a good segue to remind you that STAC2023, the annual gathering of the Structure, Tower and Antenna Council, is coming up in just 7 weeks, March 28-29, 2023. It will be held in person this year, at the Niagara Falls Convention Centre. Each year, this event is dedicated to safety and other best practices in the communications tower industry, bringing together industry professionals from across Canada.

Have you booked your place yet?

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