GPS Technology Enhancing Underground Utility Locating

Pilot Project Aims To Improve Data Sharing, Stakeholder Communication
April 2010 Vol. 65 No. 4

“We set out to develop a process to electronic white-line,” says Pevarski. “Working with outside vendors, we developed an application that runs on a pocket PC using a Microsoft Mobile web application. As an excavator, you can take a PDA file, walk your area of excavation and be able to view it on our ortho-photography. Basically, the software allows you to complete the ticket in the field.”

The project, completed in late 2007, resulted in an 8 percent reduction in the number of tickets issued per locate request in Fairfax County. Based on a total of 7.8 million tickets issued throughout the state of Virginia annually at an estimated average locate cost of $10 per ticket, the 8 percent reduction could conservatively result in a net savings of $6,271,200 in locate costs alone.

With this information in hand, VUPS began implementing Phase II of the project in 2007. Phase II involves the integration and application of GPS technology to locating instruments and the development of electronic manifests tracking the locator’s activity. Specifically, utility markings will be overlaid onto the ortho-photographic maps to provide a bird’s-eye view of the excavation site. This enhancement will improve the detail currently seen in manually created manifest records.

“Utility operators can use the data from Phase II as a verification of their own maps and records,” says Pevarski. “The excavator can view an image that provides a birds-eye view of what was located with a much clearer picture of where those lines run from a big-picture perspective.

Pevarski goes on to say that many times excavators arrive at a site and see paint and flags all over making it difficult to decipher. But when they can see an aerial or birds-eye view, it becomes much clearer. This data is shared with the utility allowing them to verify their own maps and records.

Software opens lines of communication
VUPS invited leading utility locator manufacturers to participate in Phase II of the pilot project and McLaughlin, based in Greenville, SC, immediately began participating. Specifically, McLaughlin developed software applications that allowed its Verifier G2 utility locator to share real-time data with an integrated Magellan GPS unit installed onto 45 Verifier G2 utility locators being used in the pilot project.