underground utility marking options

Photo provided from the Damage Prevention Professional Library

Like the variety of underground utility locator systems used by utility companies, contractors, and public agencies to find buried assets, there exists a diverse array of underground utility marking options. As with locators, there is no method that best applies to every situation.


As a result, it’s useful to have an understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of both the traditional methods that are widely used throughout the utility industry, as well as the qualities of alternative systems.


Traditional marking techniques


Even those who are completely unfamiliar with the finer details of underground utility management have probably come in contact with the most common tracking method: flagging.


Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, pink, and white flags have denoted various kinds of underground assets for decades. With an accurate asset location system in place, a utility team can assess a given area for buried assets and then plant as many flags as is necessary to completely mark each hazard.


Color coded spray paint is often used in tandem with flags to classify brief details about a given asset as well as create a somewhat more complete pattern of warning symbols corresponding to more complex systems buried underneath the surface.


Advantages of color-coded flagging


Color-coded flags have long been utilized because of their relatively high visibility above ground. When using extraction equipment, operators and technicians can have a constant optical view of where the markers are relative to their digs.


Flags also have the capacity to have data printed on them whether it’s for the purpose of company distinction or specifics about the utilities themselves. This is useful both for protecting utility engineers and the public in general.


Unlike electronic markers, flags and spray paint need no external detection device in order to actually appear. This makes flags useful for homeowners and business owners who intend on digging on property where utilities are present.


Disadvantages of color-coded flagging


Although this marking system has been established as a tried and true method, there are some serious considerations that put it at a disadvantage to competing approaches given certain circumstances.


Depending on how long a utility needs to be marked, flags have a finite lifetime. The advantage of being exposed on the surface for visual marking also means flags and paint are at the whim of weather conditions, which can limit a project’s overall timetable depending on the geography and climate of the area in question.


Although the flags themselves are most often constructed of inexpensive materials, their short lifespan can mean more costs if replacements are needed. If pricing is a large consideration for your project, be sure to look into alternate systems.


Tape systems – more of the same


Similar to flag systems, tape systems also provide a highly visible aboveground way to mark buried assets. The highly customizable nature of tape gives it an edge over flagging if your particular project requires data beyond a simple color code. It can also be strung between various objects instead of simply stuck in the ground.


This system has the same general pitfalls as flags do. Being exposed to the elements gives tape a short lifetime relative to newer technological options, which are emerging on the marketplace as a viable cost effective alternative.


RFID’s advantages over traditional subsurface marking methods


Radio-frequency identification (RFID) devices have been gaining popularity among utility companies and public agencies for over a decade. By marking buried utilities with a RFID tag a foot or deeper above a given asset, a handheld receiver can then be used by utility technicians to find exact locations of potential hazards before extraction operations begin.


This technology virtually eliminates the longevity issue posed by flags, paint, and tape. By burying tags beneath the surface, the issue of weather exposure is profoundly lessened. In addition, RFID technology allows for a far richer degree of data to be stored electronically on the tags themselves––giving engineers more information about what lies beneath the surface.


The InfraMarker represents the premier system of marking, mapping, and locating subsurface utilities all over the country. When it comes to utility marking options, the InfraMarker allows users to store information regarding asset specifics, load types, and ownership information which can be rewritten and stored on the same chip without requiring any invasive extraction.


Although such a system represents a more substantial upfront investment to utility companies, contractors, and public works agencies, the benefits afforded through its extreme durability under sustained duress coupled with the high degree of customization and information storage makes it a serious contender as an alternative marking method.


To learn more about the InfraMarker, Berntsen’s all-in-one underground RFID marking system, visit the InfraMarker product page or request a catalog.