Photo provided from the Damage Prevention Professional Library

Those tasked with regularly locating subsurface utilities have long struggled to address the problems associated with disorganization, mainly due to insufficient locating techniques.


With the emergence of Subsurface Utility Engineering (SUE) however, the previously haphazard recordkeeping and location practices were largely replaced by fundamentally different methods of mapping underground assets.


The new system uses elements of surveying, geophysics, and civil engineering in conjunction with one another to radically boost the accuracy of facility location services in order to minimize the kinds of digging errors which led to senseless damage and costs for utility companies.


There’s no doubt SUE has become a standardized system of underground asset location over the 20 years it has evolved. Today, it’s utilized by federal, state, and local utility agencies in addition to the multitude of contractors, design consultants, and private utility companies interested in investing their resources in the effectiveness the system has provided.


Taking standardization to the next level, the Canadian Standards Association is going as far as to develop a common standard for mapping underground utility facilities using SUE all over Canada.


Taking SUE to a higher level


The jury is in on the effectiveness of SUE’s techniques. A 1999 Purdue University study found an almost 4:1 advantage when it comes to savings on the dollar invested after the system is implemented.


When broken down into where the savings were made in particular, the most significant reductions in cost came from avoiding utility relocations and drastically reducing claims from service delays. Concluding that the effectiveness of the method warranted systemic integration across the board, it’s no wonder the practice has grown in popularity.


Given SUE’s continuing success, new technologies are now being made available that can go even further in boosting effectiveness and reducing risks and the costs associated with them. Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is now able to take the accuracy, accessibility, and ease provided by SUE to the next level thanks to developments in low-energy transmitter technology.


The monumental leap forward in facility tracking made possible by combining underground imaging, CADD software, and geological surveying was powered by new technology. Although the affordances in efficiency are still being reaped through SUE today, RFID technology represents a potential new leap forward in maximizing the accuracy of subsurface facility location.


How to integrate RFID


Fortunately, integrating RFID marking and tracking equipment does not mean overhauling an entire system of mapping or surveying. RFID simply slips into the level A (also known as “locating”) stage of your SUE composite to bring golf-ball sized precision magnetic location and information through the non-destructive RFID exposure of buried utility asset markers.


Using magnetic location and Berntsen’s InfraMarker RFID Reader utility engineers can find buried assets with incredible accuracy using the handheld reader to identify facilities underground. With Berntsen’s InfraMarker RFID software, new information can be combined with existing plans to provide another dimension of location data to your composite.


Through the passive, low-energy RFID transmitting technology, technicians can instantly identify buried facilities using handheld electronic devices synced to your composite data. The accuracy of asset identification as well as pinpoint locating gives you the ability to use even less destructive excavation techniques to access particular asset points.


In many ways, RFID integration is a logical “next step” for SUE operations since it can provide a standardized way of mapping precise locations as well as finding their positions with extremely low margins of error.


As the purveyors of the SUE system begin to grab ahold of 21st century technology, we can finally begin to let spray painted markings on roadways and sidewalks wash away, and instead look to more reliable and accurate means of asset point mapping that remain invisible to the public eye.



For more information on the InfraMarker, visit its product page or request a catalog.