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Next Practices Case Study: Minnesota Utilities Mapping Project

PILOT: Improving Efficiency and Reducing Damages by Providing Ticket-Level Visualizations of Underground Facilities to Designers, Locators and Excavators

 

Why Mapping is Important

Despite the widespread availability of highly precise mapping technologies and platforms, legacy records of underground utilities are often inaccurate or incomplete, and largely remain siloed away from 811 system end users like designers, locators and excavators. Bringing damage prevention mapping technology and accessibility to 811 system end users has the potential to reduce dig ins and increase efficiency at every step of the safe excavation process. Imagine a platform that dynamically displays comprehensive utility map visualizations for the geographic area indicated on an 811 ticket, allowing engineers to plan new projects more effectively, locators to perform their duties more efficiently and contractors to excavate more safely – all while facility owner/operators maintain security and control over their mapping data.

Summary

Gopher State One Call (GSOC), the 811 center serving Minnesota, has partnered with a state advisory council (the Minnesota Geospatial Advisory Council) on the ambitious Minnesota Utilities Mapping Project (MUMP). The Minnesota Utilities Mapping Team’s goal is to provide real-time, ticket-level mapped visualizations of underground utilities to accredited designers, locators and excavators to improve the damage prevention system’s efficiency and outcomes. This project leverages widely available technology to significantly improve the current 811 process through facility visualization.

This project leverages widely available technology to significantly improve the current 811 process through facility visualization.

The MUMP has completed its pilot phase and is now focused on building support and expanding partners to move to the production phase. Importantly, the process, technology and platform powering the MUMP’s pilot phase of underground utility map access was created with a universal approach in mind and has the potential to be utilized across the U.S. and Canada. 

 

Timeline and Scope

GSOC and the Minnesota Geospatial Advisory Council’s Emergency Preparedness Committee began collaborating on the Minnesota Utilities Mapping Project in August 2020 and completed a pilot/proof-of-concept in Glencoe, Minn., in September 2022. A number of facility owners and other state damage prevention stakeholders are part of the MUMP, which itself is divided into four working groups:

  • The Facility Operator Utility Mapping group focuses on locating, collecting and storing data on underground utility infrastructure.
  • The Locate Data Flows and Management group focuses on data maintenance and distribution.
  • The Outreach group focuses on developing persuasive messages and liaising with key stakeholders.
  • The Regulations/Security group focuses on the availability and use of GIS data and/or any potential data use restrictions.

For the pilot phase of its project, the MUMP secured buy-in and participation from facility owners who serve the city of Glencoe, Minn., to provide access to ticket-level mapping data. As trials move to the production phase, the system expects to provide access to this data to accredited designers, locators, facility owners and excavators. These end users of the ticket-level mapping data agree to terms and conditions that include complying with all state laws to ensure that map visualizations are not used to circumvent any part of the safe excavation process.

As of January 2023, the MUMP’s pilot phase has created a scalable open-source software product that allows end users to access visualizations of underground infrastructure mapping associated with an 811 center request for the life of the ticket within the bounds of Glencoe, Minn. This pilot phase is for proof of concept and is not currently employed on live tickets.

 

How it Works

MUMP’s pilot utilizes an open-source software solution which connects to the GSOC ticketing system and captures all relevant ticket information – particularly the geographic area indicated on the ticket – and returns a digital report of the area of interest for the GSOC ticket queried (based on data provided by facility owners), as well as a link to the originating GSOC ticket. The visualization of buried facility data is accessible to end users for the life of the 811 ticket.

Example of facility visualization available to accredited system end users within an 811 ticket excavation area.

For designers, locators, excavators and other end users to access facility location visualizations during the production phase, they will be required to agree to terms and conditions developed by the MUMP. Conditions include agreeing to comply with relevant laws governing safe excavation, to hold harmless the entities involved in providing the data and access, and (other than design engineers) to only view the visualizations and not store them, among other terms. The software platform is also expected to have the capability to allow users to communicate data back to facility owners in the event that a locator or excavator finds evidence of a discrepancy between mapped data and actual facility location, or if they discover abandoned facilities.

From a technical perspective, MUMP believes its solution is scalable to the U.S. and Canada. The software platform is flexible in connecting to nearly any type of system on the backend. The software dynamically connects to facility owners’ mapping data as 811 tickets are initiated, and receives maps as individual data layers. Facility owners will be able to embed map quality level information as a feature attribute within a data layer. Facility owners control their own data on their own servers and share only the visualizations of mapping data and attributes that they select with the system. Mapping data visualizations are then expunged from the system as tickets expire.

 

Key Drivers of Success

  • Facility owners’ recognition of the safety and damage prevention benefits of providing 811 system users with limited access to mapping data: To provide key damage prevention stakeholders such as accredited locators and excavators with any meaningful access to facility maps, facility owners must agree that the potential of providing limited visualizations of their underground infrastructure for reducing dig-ins vastly outweighs security concerns over such geographic- and time-limited access. Expanding the MUMP pilot program to a state, national or international level is likely to require a significant shift among industry facility owner/operators away from protectionism and toward proactive sharing of map data visualizations to prevent damages.
  • Minnesota’s commitment to bringing technology to bear on the underground utility space: The state’s Geospatial Advisory Council is an advisory group charged with providing coordination, guidance and leadership for the state’s use of GIS in the public interest. The council understands the promise that more accurate and accessible mapping of buried utilities holds for public safety: assisting designers to avoid or minimize infrastructure conflicts, improving the speed and accuracy of locates, providing excavators with access to an additional source of utility location data, augmenting emergency response timelines and ultimately reducing damages to underground infrastructure. 
  • Technical expertise of the Minnesota Geospatial Advisory Council’s Emergency Preparedness Committee: GSOC Chief Operations Officer and MUMP Chair Barb Cederberg credits much of the success of the team’s efforts to the talents of the state Geospatial Advisory Council’s Emergency Preparedness Committee, which coordinated an effort to complete the technical build-out of the pilot software platform, among other contributions toward the governing policies and practices.
  • Having all stakeholders at the table from the project’s start: In addition to having technical assistance from Minnesota-based geospatial research and development nonprofit SharedGeo, the MUMP also benefitted from having other key damage prevention stakeholders on board from the project’s initiation. 811 center leadership, key facility owner/operators, contractors, locators, 811 software providers and legal/security experts, among others, collaborated to bring this innovative idea from pilot to proof of concept.

 

Next Steps

Within the current software platform, the Minnesota Utilities Mapping Team anticipates building out more robust functionality in 2023, including the ability to indicate data quality visually on maps or through feature attributes. On a state level, the team is working to expand voluntary participation from facility owner/operators in Minnesota. At the industry level, the MUMP envisions its pilot program as a scalable model for a major improvement in U.S. and Canadian damage prevention.

 

Next Practices Perspective

The Next Practices Initiative Report to the Industry identified GIS-based mapping as a key systemic opportunity capable of addressing many of the damage prevention industry’s most critical challenges. In this use case out of Minnesota, a dedicated group of damage prevention and public GIS professionals is using well-established technologies (GPS/GIS mapping and APIs) and negotiated data access from facility owners in a first-of-its-kind effort to provide 811 system users with visual information that can help them: (1) locate facilities more quickly and accurately, (2) safely excavate around buried facilities and (3) efficiently plan and design new projects.  

As the MUMP project advances, CGA’s Next Practices Initiative will track key elements that could be instructive for future efforts:

  • Structure of policies, practices and procedures supporting time- and geographically-limited facility visualizations for 811 system users (technological, access-related, etc.)
  • Establishment of a data standard to include geospatial accuracy, update cycles, shared attributes and terminology 
  • Impacts of local pilot program on key damage prevention metrics and the business case for similar facility map access
  • Lessons learned as both the technology backend and facility owner/member partners expand

Questions?

For more information about the Minnesota Utilities Mapping Project, reach out to Barb Cederberg at Gopher State One Call.

 

 

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