Next Practices Case Study: Crown Castle

Leadership Driven, Data-Informed Interventions Reduce Damages And Costs While Improving Network Reliability And Customer Satisfaction

Crown Castle is a national provider of shared communications infrastructure — building, owning and managing small cells, towers and fiber. Crown Castle joined the Common Ground Alliance (CGA) as a Platinum Member in recognition that safety and damage prevention is a shared responsibility for stakeholders across the industry.

 

 

 

 

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In an effort to continually improve Crown Castle's business and customer satisfaction, the company sought to decrease damages to utilities, thereby  decreasing the length of service outages and reducing expenses associated with repair costs. The company is engaged in a competitive marketplace, and therefore recognizes the network reliability benefits of damage prevention in maintaining and expanding its business, in addition to the value generated by reducing recovery and repair costs.

In response, Crown Castle took steps to create and reinforce a culture of damage prevention. By convening and following the data-driven (and DIRT Report-informed) recommendations of a newly created internal Damage Prevention Committee, Crown Castle’s southern region has been able to reduce third-party and network asset damages by 19% and reduce repair and maintenance expenses by 17% in under a year.

Crown Castle‚Äôs southern region has been able to reduce third-party and network asset damages by 19% and reduce repair and maintenance expenses by 17% in under a year.

Timeline and Scope

In 2019, the rate of damages to Crown Castle’s underground infrastructure was growing in the southern U.S., particularly Texas and Florida. In an effort to identify the cause of the damages, Crown Castle realized that it could benefit from more granular data than the repair- and claims-focused information it was gathering. In response, Crown Castle added several additional fields into its existing system for collecting damage data which could be leveraged toward damage prevention, including CGA DIRT data fields and others that could help the company identify the circumstances and specific excavators causing damages.

In 2020, which the company calls a “learning year,” Crown Castle joined CGA and used the opportunities associated with its membership to engage more deeply with other industry stakeholders. During this time, Crown Castle also established monthly meetings with its contract locating firm to review mismarks, interfaced with contractors who were causing damages, and engaged in a dialogue with Texas811 and Sunshine 811 to better understand state regulations and processes.

In 2021, armed with data and information gathered in its learning year, Crown Castle established a Damage Prevention Committee for its southern region under the guiding principles that the work to reduce damages would be collaborative, comprehensive, and would create and reinforce an organic culture of damage prevention throughout all layers of the organization.

A Leadership-Driven Culture of Safety

Preventing damages is a shared responsibility, and Crown Castle has dedicated resources to reinforce this across the entire organization. Employees who demonstrate that damage prevention is a priority are recognized and rewarded. The Damage Prevention Committee selects a standout employee every month to receive extra benefits via Crown Castle’s internal rewards program and the employee’s safety achievements are highlighted. Prioritizing a culture of safety has been instrumental in the company’s ability to quickly achieve significant reductions in damages and associated costs.

Key Drivers of Success

In addition to the support of company leadership, Crown Castle credits three key drivers for its 19% reduction in damages in under a year:

  1. Strategic engagements with CGA, its contract locating firm, and the most frequent third-party offenders helped Crown Castle gain a more in-depth understanding of the damage prevention ecosystem as a whole and the issues impacting damages to its buried infrastructure. For example, after initiating monthly meetings to review mismarks with its contract locating firm, mismarks declined by 50%. In another case, Crown Castle met with executives at a Florida utility about damages that its contractors and sub-contractors were making to Crown Castle infrastructure on a weekly basis. As a result of that strategic engagement, the utility not only began requiring its contractors and their sub-contractors to pothole, but it also began sharing GIS files of planned excavation with Crown Castle on a weekly basis so both parties could anticipate and plan around utility excavation. This enabled Crown Castle to proactively monitor excavation activity by performing route patrols.
  2. Improvements in internal processes and tools resulted in Crown Castle’s ability to capture much richer data on damages through its enhanced Incident Reporting Module. Based on the insights that the data yielded, the company was able to design damage prevention efforts that resulted in significant improvements. An important part of creating a culture of damage prevention at Crown Castle was the company’s establishment of an Underground Utility Avoidance Standard to which it holds all of its employees and partners accountable nationally.

    The Underground Utility Avoidance Standard contains a list of criteria that must be met in order to work as a contractor for Crown Castle. On the engineering side, that list includes, among many other things, the requirement to generate a subsurface engineering (SUE) risk score and meet with stakeholders in the field if the score/risk meets a certain threshold. For the construction side of the business, the Underground Utility Avoidance Standard criteria includes safe excavation training (including for sub-contractors), escalating communications in situations that generate high-risk SUE scores, potholing and positively locating all utilities. Crown Castle is aware of the rigors that the Standard imposes on contractors in terms of time and cost, and the company has set the tone that safety comes first.
  3. Focused tactical defenses, including establishing communication channels between field forces so that excavators have a Crown Castle contact to reach out to if they require clarification on the footprint of the company’s infrastructure, as well as the company’s Boots on the Ground program. The Boots on the Ground defense proactively dispatches Crown Castle liaisons to high-risk excavation sites. Currently, Crown Castle filters locate requests by characteristics such as proximity to high-capacity cable or past damage incidence rates, and contacts excavators whose plans are determined to be high-risk, with a 23% contact rate in the six months the program has been running. At a minimum, high-risk contacts for excavations receive an email alerting them that they are digging near high-priority infrastructure, and are provided with a Crown Castle contact. For the highest-risk excavations, a Crown Castle team member sets up a field meeting to review the location of assets and remains available as a resource throughout the project.

Business Case and Efficiencies

The drive to improve led Crown Castle to make strategic and comprehensive improvements in building and maintaining buried infrastructure. The company has created a robust damage prevention program that is proactive, leverages recovery data, and has resulted in a 19% reduction in damages and a 17% reduction in repair and maintenance costs in less than a year.

Figure 1: Crown Castle Results for 2021

Dedicated Resources

  • Roles dedicated to damage prevention:
    • Damage Prevention Committee: Consists of a representative from each district, Safety, Damage Recovery and Business Process Analytics
    • Construction Managers (CM) supporting Boots on the Ground program: The quantity of CM resources to support fluctuate based on volume and Crown Castle is adjusting that based on its evolution with IRTH Smart Score.
    • Supervisor leading Construction Managers
  • Technology costs associated:
    • Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool to manage and track damages to facilities via incident tickets, associated damage claim tickets and safety incident tracking for damages that Crown Castle causes to others during construction.
    • iRTH UltiSphere platform and Smart Score

Next Steps

Crown Castle is currently working to determine how it can replicate the success of its southern region’s Damage Prevention Committee across the country. Scaling through automation will be a key step in making its efforts more efficient, and Crown Castle is implementing iRTH’s UtiliSphere platform and SmartScore technology to automate the process of ticket risk assessment and enhance its Boots on the Ground program.

For more information about this case study, please contact us. If your organization would like to submit a case study to the Next Practices Initiative, please visit the Next Practices information submission page.

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