Report: Damage to Buried Utilities Cost at Least $1.5 Billion in 2016

Posted on

The Common Ground Alliance (CGA) today announced findings from its comprehensive 2016 Damage Information Reporting Tool (DIRT) Report.

According to the report, which is the sum of all 2016 data submitted anonymously and voluntarily by facility operators, utility locating companies, one call centers, contractors, regulators, and others, the total number of underground excavation damages in the U.S. last year rose 20 percent, to approximately 379,000, and conservatively cost direct stakeholders at least $1.5 billion. The 2016 DIRT Report benefitted from a record-high number of event record submissions as well as a record-high Data Quality Index score (a measurement of the completeness of data submissions), yielding the most comprehensive analysis of damages to buried facilities ever compiled.

For the first time, data from CGA’s DIRT Report has been used to estimate the societal costs associated with underground facility damages in the United States. As estimated by a very conservative model accounting only for stakeholders’ direct costs related to a damage, 2016 damages alone cost approximately $1.5 billion. This estimate does not include property damage to excavating equipment or the surrounding area, evacuations of residences and businesses, road closures and/or traffic delays, environmental impacts, legal costs, injuries or deaths. Customers and users of underground facilities were most impacted, shouldering just over 30 percent of the total societal costs, and emergency responders absorbed more than 23 percent.

While the 2016 damage ratio, which measures damages per 1,000 one call transmissions, increased 14 percent from 2015, construction spending has risen such that the ratio of damages to construction spending has dramatically declined since 2004 (the first year the DIRT Report was issued), and estimated damages have stabilized into the 300,000-400,000 range since 2010 despite increased construction activity in the interim.

“The substantial estimated economic impacts of damages to underground facilities across the U.S. likely do not come as a big surprise to damage prevention advocates who are dedicated to reducing that figure – along with the very human impacts these damages can have – on a daily basis,” said Sarah K. Magruder Lyle, president and CEO of CGA. “Nevertheless, we hope that the 2016 DIRT Report’s analysis of the $1.5 billion in societal impact is eye-opening to both the industry and the public at large, and provides clear evidence that reducing damages is solidly in the public interest,” . “The latest DIRT Report also examines damage prevention paradigms in other countries for the first time, which is an opportunity to consider how this information can help us can work toward our goal of zero damages.”

Other significant findings from the 2016 DIRT Report include that damages caused by a failure to call 811 prior to digging have fallen to a record-low 16 percent.

Along with the report, CGA has also made an interactive DIRT Dashboard accessible to the public through its website. The dashboard contains a series of visualizations that allow users to sort information through additional filters, giving damage prevention stakeholders a powerful tool for drilling down into the areas where they feel they can have the biggest positive impact. New this year are capabilities to filter several dashboards by state or year (inclusive of 2015 and 2016 data), as well as a new dashboard that centers around the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s (PHMSA) determinations on the adequacy of state damage prevention programs.

“CGA’s Data Reporting and Evaluation Committee has worked tirelessly to recruit quality data submissions and explore new areas of analysis to inform the 2016 DIRT Report as part of its pursuit to provide damage prevention advocates and the public with comprehensive, relevant information,” said Bob Terjesen, Data Committee co-chair from National Grid. “DIRT data is more accessible than ever with the interactive DIRT Dashboard hosted on the CGA website, making it possible for any stakeholder to explore the unique ways each of us can have an impact on the staggering $1.5 billion in societal costs caused by damages to buried utilities, and on protecting the people who work near them.”