By the end of the 19th century, the number of underground infrastructure networks increased to provide access to new technologies as well as meeting the needs of increasing consumption for various energy sources. Underground, a complex labyrinth exists where drainage systems, water lines, telecommunication and electrical cables, gas pipelines, etc. are intertwined. Over the years, these underground networks became more and more complex, thereby increasing the risk of damage during excavation work.
In the United States, damage prevention to underground infrastructures became of the utmost importance in the aftermath of major incidents which claimed the lives of many.
The unwieldy process was rather discouraging, and many took the risk of excavating without requesting any information. The number of incidents had grown to a serious scale. Between 1960 and 1970, notification centers for locate requests were created in the United States where owners made available, through a “one-point access”, information concerning the location of their underground infrastructures.
This initiative greatly reduced the number of damages to underground infrastructures and associated risks. Today, strict laws in the United States require that locate requests be made to notification centers before undertaking excavation work and owners of underground infrastructures must become affiliated with such centers. Offenders are liable to steep fines.
Today, all American states have their own legislation that is oriented toward the protection of underground infrastructures and each state has its own one notification center for processing locate requests.
In Canada, the first notification center for locate requests was created in Alberta in 1984, followed by Quebec in 1993. Today, with the exception of the Maritimes, every province now has a notification center for processing locate requests. Even though all provinces have partial legislation, the only province that adopted legislation was Ontario in 2012.
The U.S. Federal Government, through its Department of Transportation, requires that underground infrastructures owners – especially pipelines and gas – develop ways to reduce the inherent risk of excavation work. It even threatened to impose tighter legislation if the oil and gas Industry could not take charge of the issue. This led to the creation, in 1998, of the Common Ground Alliance (CGA) following the Common Ground Study (USDT 1999).
The organization, which brings together various underground infrastructure stakeholders in the United States, is dedicated to establishing consensus-driven Best Practices, from a project’s inception to its completion.
Since then, the CGA has become a reference body in damage prevention. Not so long ago, underground infrastructure owners had to be contacted one by one to know the location of their network. Since we did not necessarily know which underground infrastructure was near a proposed excavation site, often not all owners were consulted.
The CGA’s Canadian history is slightly different than its U.S. counterpart. In Canada, regional partners of the Common Ground Alliance were created in various provinces such as Ontario (ORCGA), British-Columbia (BCCGA), Quebec (APISQ), Alberta (ABCGA), Saskatchewan (SCGA) and more recently, Manitoba (MCGA).
Recognizing that each regional partner shared common national issues, the CCGA established in 2006 an ad hoc committee to address those issues from a national perspective.
In just a few years, it became clear that the CCGA required more structure to maintain its reputation on key issues. In 2009, the committee introduced and accepted a governance model. In accordance with this model, the CCGA held in late 2009, its first election to secure an executive committee and its officers.
The CCGA’s primary role is to manage damage prevention issues from a national standpoint. The regional partners decide which issues they consider best addressed through a single voice.
Initially, eleven underground infrastructure owners joined together to create Info-Excavation, a notification center for the province of Quebec. During the course of its first year of operation, in 1993, Info-Excavation processed about 17,000 locate requests. The organization now has over 125 member companies and around 70 municipalities.
Annually, it receives more than 200,000 locate requests which are analyzed and, if necessary, transmitted to underground infrastructure owners whose network is located under the worksite.
In Quebec, it is clear that many excavation works are still being done without prior locate request. The reasons given are many and diverse: unrealistic timeframes required by the client, claim of knowing by instinct the location of every underground infrastructure network in their part of the country, lack of knowledge of Info-Excavation, etc.
However, the notification center is at the heart of an organized and coherent damage prevention process. It is advisable that all underground infrastructure owners become members so that Info-Excavation’s role as notification center be performed fully. At the same time, all excavation work must be preceded by a locate request sent to the notification center. Different stakeholders would then have a complete picture of the underground networks in Quebec.
In 2004, another non-profit organization was created: APISQ (Alliance pour la protection des infrastructures souterraines du Québec). Its role was to promote Best Practices aimed at damage prevention to underground infrastructures while encouraging shared responsibility as well as working with various interest groups.
Since both organizations had similar and complementary aims, the leaders of Info-Excavation and APISQ decided in 2013, to merge damage prevention activities into a single entity. Info-Excavation (alliance for the protection of underground infrastructures) becomes the first and only center for damage prevention in Quebec.