Out of sight, out of mind—a saying that’s all too true when it comes to underground utility assets. Digging blind can lead to serious injury, costly damage, interrupted service, and hazardous environmental threats. Yet, according to the Common Ground Alliance, approximately 38.6 million residents and contractors dig into the ground each year without first locating underground utility lines.

In communities where each utility is managed by a different organization, identifying all the buried assets can be both challenging and expensive. Many residents simply don’t know how to request this information. In an effort to overcome these challenges, states and provinces across North America increasingly turn to a single customer service provider to centralize incoming utility locate requests.

South Carolina established a mandatory Call Before You Dig program in 2012, requiring all utility providers to become members of the South Carolina 811 nonprofit call center service by June 7, 2015. Before embarking on an excavation project, residents and contractors must contact SC811 to request markings of all underground utility lines. SC811 then notifies member utilities of the planned excavation. Once notified, member utilities must locate and mark their underground lines free of charge for the public within the required timeframe.

Although the new mandate helps protect residents and utilities, it also presented some challenges for the Taylors Fire and Sewer District in Greenville County. SC811 estimated that Taylors would receive an average of 194 tickets per month, requiring staff to sift through the daily requests, determine the locations, dispatch field personnel, and prioritize emergency tickets in the field. Taylors staff were already at full capacity, and providing the service without reimbursement caused significant budgetary concerns.

When Taylors went live with Cityworks in July 2014, they immediately recognized the importance of integrating the locate requests into their current Cityworks workflows. An integration would not only eliminate the administrative burden of operating two different software systems; it would also provide helpful labor and cost analysis to effectively forecast additional budget and personnel needs. So, Taylors contracted with AECOM to develop an automated solution, and it was implemented the week they became SC811members. The process took 6 months of coordination between Taylors, AECOM, and SC811.

Learn more about the Cityworks GIS-centric public asset management platform.

How It Works

When SC811 receives a locate request in the Taylors jurisdiction, the service sends an email ticket to a dedicated Taylors email account. Each email includes an attached formatted text file containing the locate request information.

Taylors’ email account is scanned every few minutes for incoming emails from SC811 using the software Email2DB. When it finds a new locate email, Email2DB reads the text file attachment and parses the relevant information. The latitude and longitude coordinates are sent to the ArcGIS Server Geometry Service, which returns the coordinates in the local coordinate system used by Taylors.

Each Cityworks service request is automatically populated with caller information, ticket priority type, comments, instructions, and the x and y coordinates. Just in case, the SC811 email text file is attached to the Cityworks service request as a record of the original document. The service request is prioritized based on ticket type: “emergency” or “normal.” Members must respond to emergency tickets in a shorter time frame than other tickets, so service requests generated from emergencies are therefore given higher priority. All service requests are initially assigned to the Cityworks administrator and then reassigned if necessary.

The solution then forwards the original SC811 email to the appropriate Taylors staff member based on ticket priority and adds the Cityworks service request number to the subject line. Emergency tickets are sent to the director of sewer services, who then forwards the service request to the appropriate person. Normal tickets are sent to the director of sewer services as well as the Cityworks administrator, who can handle some tickets from the office.

Buried Treasure

As a result of the SC811 integration, Taylors staff doesn’t spend time reading SC811 emails or copying data from one system to another. Instead, they can focus on scheduling and prioritizing work, which is especially important given the mandatory response times for emergency requests.

Office and field crews, who have already been using Cityworks, have continued their normal daily operations without additional training on another program. Staff are now automatically notified of emergency locate tickets.

Using Cityworks to track labor hours and cost associated with locate tickets helped justify the decision to hire an additional staff member dedicated in part to SC811 locates as well as the purchase of another vehicle. The integration has truly helped Taylors streamline their daily operations while improving customer service and regulatory compliance.

By Samantha Babb, Taylors Fire & Sewer District director of sewer services, and Matt Mole, AECOM application systems manager. 

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