CGA Transitions Leadership; Growth Continues

The Common Ground Alliance (CGA) has become the primary driving force in bringing together every organization and each person that should be concerned about preventing damage to underground utility infrastructure.

Obviously, it is in the interest of owners of utilities, and contractors and organizations involved in underground construction, not to accidentally strike and damage buried pipe and cable. Such incidents disrupt vital services, are costly to repair and pose serious safety risks.

The association’s membership includes representatives of utility providers and the contractors who serve them. But CGA has gone further, with public awareness campaigns directed to “fringe” contractors such as plumbers, fence builders, agricultural operations and the general public.

Established in 2000, CGA has grown to a membership of more than 1,800 individuals, organizations and sponsors from every facet of the underground utility industry, and beyond. All have a common interest. CGA members have a stake in preventing utility damage, but they don’t necessarily share the approaches for accomplishing it.

That CGA provides a platform for these diverse groups and individuals to work together toward a common goal is key to the progress evident today.

Last year Bob Kipp, who served as CGA president from its formation, retired, and Sarah Magruder Lyle took over the association leadership. Underground Construction magazine discussed the transition, accomplishments and CGA’s future plans with Khrysanne Kerr, CGA vice president of communications.

CGA comments

How has the leadership transition been from Bob Kipp to Sarah Magruder Lyle?

Sarah Magruder Lyle brings with her a wealth of energy and association knowledge, and she spent her first day on the job attending a CGA committee meeting in Houston. She has focused on building on the solid foundation established by Bob Kipp, and on continuing to increase the organization’s visibility as the lead association for underground damage prevention.

What were the most significant accomplishments of the CGA in 2017?

The Best Practices Guide, a definitive guide for underground safety and damage prevention, is the backbone of our effort and is the industry’s most-referenced damage prevention resource designed to improve worker safety, protect vital underground infrastructure and ensure public safety during excavation activities. In 2017, CGA released the 15th iteration of the Best Practices Guide. Approximately 200,000 books have been shipped globally since the inception of the CGA, as well as countless downloads from the CGA website.

The 811 call-before-you-dig campaign celebrated its10th anniversary in 2017, and that culminated with more that $7 million in advertising equivalency from CGA stakeholder efforts.

In addition to the widely successful public awareness effort, CGA also published the most robust Damage Information Reporting Tool (DIRT) report to-date, containing invaluable information about root causes of utility damages. (See sidebar for details.)

As a member-driven organization, CGA achieved a 5.2-percent  growth in membership and sponsorship in 2017, bringing the total number of organizations to 241. Additionally, CGA welcomed Quanta Services as a Platinum Sponsor, making the company the first professional contractor to sponsor at CGA’s highest level. With more than 1,800 total members and 350 active committee participants, CGA is poised to lead the damage-prevention community in to the next decade.

What are the elements of CGA’s educational and informational programs, and is there a way to evaluate their effectiveness?

Total public awareness of the importance of preventing damage to underground infrastructure by unaided and aided national public awareness studies has increased from a combined 20 percent in 2008, to 48 percent in 2017.

CGA has secured 850 million media impressions and earned media exposure exceeding $6 million in value – a level of success achieved without a paid media campaign. Instead, CGA creates a comprehensive communications plan filled with media relations templates, social media content, instructional videos and other communications tools that all damage-prevention stakeholders may use to reach the public.

National campaigns have included sports marketing partnerships with NASCAR drivers, Triple Crown winning horse jockeys and NCAA men’s basketball tournaments, which all reach people who are likely to dig on their own property, according to research commissioned by CGA.

CGA measures its success through a reduction in facility damage events.

In 2004, CGA launched the Damage Information Reporting Tool (DIRT), which created the first-ever national database of these events, submitted voluntarily and anonymously by CGA members. CGA estimated in 2004 that approximately 675,000 events occurred in the United States, and for half of these events, the root cause was a failure by excavators to contact the “call before you dig,” one-call notification center in their area before starting work. 

In 2016 (the most recent year with complete data) CGA estimated about 380,000 events nationwide, with just one in six being caused by a failure to notify the one-call center. More simply put, CGA and its members have achieved more than a 50-percent reduction in total national annual damage events during that 12-year span.

Also in 2004, a damage event occurred about once every two minutes because the excavator failed to contact the local one-call center. In 2016, that figure has dropped to once every nine minutes.

CGA believes that these 12-year improvements are due in large part to improvements in public awareness about underground facilities, aided significantly by the 2007 launch of 811 as the national three-digit “call before you dig” phone number.

Annual traffic in both total visits and unique visitors to has increased more than five-fold between 2008 and 2017, as damage prevention stakeholders large and small share the 811 message with the public on their websites, social media accounts, utility bills and at events.

What are CGA’s goals for 2018?

The past year, 2017, was a year of change, as well as a year of reflection on progress and opportunity. CGA conducted multiple surveys and focused on updating its strategic plan to ensure we are prepared for the next decade of damage prevention, and making sure the organization evolves to match the needs of the industry. Technology, education, public awareness and damage reporting will continue to be a focus as the industry works towards the ultimate goal of zero damages.

Considering all factors, how does the association define the efforts of CGA and its members in reducing damage to buried utility infrastructure?

President Sarah Magruder Lyle said it best: “Committed and effective. I’ve never worked for a trade association that has such diverse representation amongst its membership, but they all agree on a common goal. I have been consistently impressed by the dedication of our membership to advance our key programs in an effort to get to zero damages.”


The CGA Damage Information Reporting Tool (DIRT) is used by stakeholders to share essential details about underground damage or near-miss incidents. The information is then used to determine root causes which are evaluated and used to focus on programs to prevent underground damage prevention, and how to apply the data to education and training efforts.

The latest DIRT report, based on 2016 data, show that the total, annual excavation-related incidents resulting in damage to buried facilities decreased over 50 percent during the first decade of the 811 “call-before-you-dig” phone number.

Even though there was an increase in damages, the long-term trend is decreasing, as is the trend of ratio of damages to construction spending.

In addition for the past two years, the DIRT Report has provided an interactive dashboard that enables users to filter data through a variety of lenses that are of importance to their specific region, state or stakeholder group.

New in 2017 the dashboard feature centers around PHMSA’s determinations on the adequacy of state damage prevention programs, and users also can now compare 2015 and 2016 data via the interactive dashboard.

Specific areas of encouragement documented in the report include:

Damages due to a failure to call 811 prior to digging were at a record-low 16 percent, continuing an encouraging trend.

The highest number of event submissions and Data Quality Index score to-date.

A first-ever estimate of the societal costs of damages to underground utilities, which were approximately $1.5 billion in 2016.

Damages were up 20 percent compared to 2015, but the ratio of damages to construction spending has declined dramatically since DIRT data first started being collected in 2004, and has largely stabilized in the 300,000-400,000 range since 2010.

A thought-provoking section on damage prevention paradigms in other countries ignites a discussion on new ideas for improving damage prevention results in the U.S.

A primary value of the DIRT report is identifying root causes of incidents. Percentages of leading causes of incidents are:

Failure to test hole (pot-hole) 28.11 percent

Notification NOT made 6.65 percent

Markings/location not sufficient 14.57 percent

Failure to maintain clearance 11.36 percent

Facility not located/marked 5.19 percent

Abandoned facility 4.24 percent

Over the past three years, these have consistently been the top six root causes, although the rank order may shift year-to-year.

As it does every year, the CGA DIRT evaluation committee makes recommendations for areas of improvement. The latest report indicates that excavation practices – especially pot-holing and maintaining clearance between excavation equipment and underground facility – should be an area of focus. Another area is accurate and on-time locating.

The shared responsibility approach of CGA allows for all stakeholders involved in damage prevention to build tools and resources to target these root causes.

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