Wood pipelines like this one are still used in some parts of America. (Photo provided from the Damage Prevention Professional Library)
The problem of an aging national utility infrastructure might be a novel idea to the general public, but certainly not to those who have worked in the underground utility industry during the past decade.
While municipal utility systems operate under the constant threat of a terrorist attack aimed at disrupting the population’s water or gas supply, a more impending threat exists from the simple fact that many of our country’s underground assets are functioning well beyond their intended lifespans.
For some communities, this threat has become reality. Incidents such as exploding water mains have already led to water restrictions for almost 2 million people stemming from a single incident. With these sorts of problems plaguing local municipalities nationwide, many local and state governments are finally realizing that the stakes are far too high to gamble with anymore.
Outdated utilities and cheap replacements at the root of the issue
Although city planners and utility engineers devise plans for long-term sustainable utility projects, loose industry standards have allowed companies contracted to construct and install utility assets the ability to implement cheap pipes and other materials prone to wear and a considerably short lifespan.
Water systems in particular pose one of the greatest threats to city utilities since the function of providing running water is perhaps the most important service a city is tasked with providing its residents on daily basis.
Unfortunately, much of the country’s water infrastructure still in use today, was built during the early part of the 20th century. After nearly a century of constant use, failing asset systems are becoming prevalent all across the board.
In New Jersey for example, the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy resulted in a $3 billion repair bill for water utilities alone. While the outcome of the disaster left the state reeling financially, its impact did more to expose a water system in dire need of total overhaul. In total, the projected bill of a project large enough to truly tackle the utility needs of the entire city stand at over $40 billion statewide.
An opportunity to modernize
We could spend all day breaking down the threats facing local communities and the obstacles standing in the way of reform projects, but it’s important to understand the problem as an opportunity for public agencies and their contractors to embrace new technologies that can revolutionize the way subsurface utilities track and maintain the quality of their investments.
Radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology has existed for decades, but its recent foray into the subsurface utility industry as a competitive alternative to traditional utility tools is creating quite a stir among public works agencies interested in investing in longevity rather than skirting costs in the short term only to fall on their taxpayers in the future.
The nationwide need for innovative solutions to an aging infrastructure problem provides an opportunity not only to standardize a growing shift toward computer-controlled asset tracking and identification, but also to generate expansive mapping systems.
With this new equipment in place, digital mapping systems coupled with on-site tracking systems could save contractors and the cities they service both the time and money invested in problematic and often inaccurate asset ID systems.
The InfraMarker system as a viable alternative
The InfraMarker is a leading RFID system currently drawing interest from utility companies all over the country making a conscious effort to modernize their utility systems and streamline the task of repairing, altering, or replacing underground utilities.
In essence, the InfraMarker uses a three-stage process involving general GPS tracking to approximate the location of a certain asset, followed by precise pinpointing via magnetic locators.
Armed with Berntsen’s InfraMarker Mobile Reader, a technician can then verify the identity of an underground utility by accessing information stored on RDIF tags located near the asset itself in order to make certain that extraction operations are accurate.
To learn more about the InfraMarker, visit the InfraMarker product page or request a catalog.