LTU professor works to limit underground utility damage
SOUTHFIELD—It’s a $30-billion-a-year problem that’s literally buried until it’s accidentally dug up.
A careless excavator digs for a construction project and accidentally chops through underground infrastructure. Or a responsible excavator calls an underground utility locator line, but the information they’re given turns out to be wrong. In either case, vital services like municipal water or internet are cut off—or worse, public safety is risked with a ruptured natural gas line.
A Lawrence Technological University professor is conducting research into how to make such accidents less common—and contributed to an industry report saying the problem is on the rise.
Research from Ahmed Al-Bayati, assistant professor of civil and architectural engineering, was cited in the 2019 Damage Information Reporting Tool (DIRT) report, issued in October by the Common Ground Alliance, a nonprofit founded in 2000 to prevent damage to underground infrastructure.
The report found that accidental damage to underground infrastructure rose in 2019 for the fifth straight year, and offered technologies and practices to reduce the damage. A case study conducted by Al-Bayati and North Carolina 811 of underground utility damage in North Carolina was one of the appendices of the report, outlining that communication is crucial between phone systems set up to notify utilities and municipalities of digging, utility locators who set out stakes and flags to mark utility locations, and the contractors who must respect those markings.
Al-Bayati noted there were more than 450,000 instances of damage to underground utilities in the United States 2019, at a staggering cost to American society of $30 billion.
“I have been fortunate to work with Louis Panzer, the executive director of NC 811, on this effort to reduce damage to underground utilities,” Al-Bayati said. “We have investigated the locators’ and excavators’ perceptions through national surveys and focus group studies in order to optimize the current damage prevention efforts. Our work has resulted in four peer-reviewed articles that have been published by the American Society of Civil Engineers.”
Lawrence Technological University, www.ltu.edu, is a private university founded in 1932 that offers more than 100 programs through the doctoral level in its Colleges of Architecture and Design, Arts and Sciences, Business and Information Technology, and Engineering. PayScale lists Lawrence Tech among the nation’s top 11 percent of universities for the salaries of its graduates, and U.S. News and World Report lists it in the top tier of best Midwestern universities. Students benefit from small class sizes and a real-world, hands-on, “theory and practice” education with an emphasis on leadership. Activities on Lawrence Tech’s 107-acre campus include more than 60 student organizations and NAIA varsity sports.
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