gas line damage

This house was destroyed after damage to a gas line caused an explosion. (Photo provided from the Damage Prevention Professional Library)

You’d probably want to be alerted if you were standing on a ticking time bomb, correct? And while (to my knowledge) no actual explosives exist beneath our feet,  underground utilities do— gas pipelines, electric lines, sewer pipes, fiber optic phone lines, etc.

These assets, though essential to the most basic operations of our society, can pose dangers to citizens and to the environment.

Underground utilities aren’t sequestered. They exist under fields, rivers, and the very roads and sidewalks on which we walk. Many “laterals” bring utility services to our homes, schools, hospitals, and where we work.

Underground utilities are extremely sensitive; even the slightest nick can cause damages. Research from a 2008 CGA study indicates underground utilities are accidentally struck by excavation equipment every 60 seconds in America.

Potential consequences include harm to the environment, destruction of nearby property, and, most gravely, harm or death to utility workers and bystanders.

The One Call System and its Inherent Problems for Private Utilities

To prevent these damages, the utility industry has established what is known as the One Call System, a network of utility notification centers.

Under this system, a building contractor or utility worker planning any excavation work in an area can call a “One Call” center by dialing “811” and alert owners and operators of underground facilities in the area of upcoming work.

The One Call System has forestalled many damages, but it is inherently incapable of protecting all assets. Call centers only alert registered utility operators.

Many private utilities, including the “laterals,” account for thousands of miles of underground assets, and are left virtually unprotected.

When a call goes out from a center, it only reaches “registered” utility owners and operators in the area. Those who own private assets often live many miles away and thus have no idea that work is taking place.

Even if they were to receive an alert, they are often too far away to find and mark assets before utility work begins. Private assets pose at least as much danger to the public and the environment as public utilities (if not more) and are equally as costly to repair.

Without widespread private utility marking, private utility professionals face high costs and potential lawsuits; they and the citizens they serve are susceptible to the aforementioned damages.

How Underground Magnetic RFID Mitigates Risk for Private Utilities

Thankfully, recent technology fills the gap in the One Call System and enables simple private utility marking.


Radio frequency identification (RFID) technology, enables public and private utility companies to find, map, and accurately mark their underground assets.

With this new technology, utility companies mark each of their asset points with a pre-programmed RFID data tag. These tags enable companies to find the approximate location of their assets with GPS and pin-point the location with a magnetic locator. With an RFID reader, companies can then verify the asset point and read the asset data stored in tags.

What makes this Magnetic-RFID technology so great is the asset marker tags are “fail-safe”, are powered by the radio frequency energy, and can remain at the asset point indefinitely. Public and private utility companies save time and money because they need only mark each asset point once.

With this technology, all utility companies could do a great deal to prevent future damages to assets. Once an asset is marked with a data tag, it becomes available to all utility workers. When workers are digging near a marked asset, they can easily contact the private utility company to whom it belongs.

Were all public and private utility companies to adopt RFID technology and accurately mark all buried utility assets, the un-seen and vital underground infrastructure could finally be mapped “as built” and the risk of damages would plummet.

Learn more about how the InfraMarker, Berntsen’s patent-pending underground magnetic RFID system, can help your private utility company by visiting the InfraMarker product page or requesting a catalog today.