Utility detection and mapping surveys are commissioned every day by a wide variety of organisations to support feasibility studies, built infrastructure projects, highways work, utility projects and any projects likely to affect, or be affected by, buried services.
With the release of PAS128 in 2014 (PAS128:2014 – Specification for underground utility detection, verification and location), a robust and consistent methodology for delivering utility surveys was introduced in the UK. A well-defined and objective measure of the quality and accuracy of a given survey allows all stakeholders to gain a clear picture of what that survey delivers and enables a risk management driven approach to further works.
However, once the commissioning body has finished with the survey, it will typically be “filed away” never to see the light of day again. This represents a lost opportunity for the wider community to gain a better understanding of the disposition of buried services at a location.
The Utility Survey Exchange portal aims to provide a simple and fair mechanism for gaining maximum benefit from high quality utility surveys for the widest possible range of stakeholders. Asset owners will be able to gain access to detailed data about their own assets, allowing source records to be cross-referenced and kept up to date with the latest onsite information. A more generic overview of all buried assets at a location will be available to selected stakeholders where this would provide legitimate support for safe working without infringing copyright and data security.
Such a mechanism is not only of inherent and immediate benefit to the utilities sector and beyond, but is also expected to facilitate easier industry uptake of the requirements around “Unidentified Buried Objects” (UBOs) which are very likely to be included in PAS256, a guidance document due for publication in 2017 relating to the collection, recording and sharing of buried asset location information.
The capture and sharing of accurate depth and absolute positioning data for legacy assets is also of critical importance, e.g. as the “Z” dimension becomes crucial for 3D modelling of buried infrastructure. While PAS256 or future standards may mandate the capture of depth and absolute position for underground utilities, legacy data is problematic, and high quality utility surveys can provide a vital service in this area. Even for new underground utilities, depth changes over time! Accurate updates to the “Z” dimension are therefore also very important.
The portal is also intended to disrupt the utility surveys market in a positive way, by providing “match-making” services between prospective clients and utility survey providers, and between prospective clients looking to pool resources and reduce individual costs. Disruption will also come in the form of attempting to introduce commercial and compliance rewards for “virtuous” behaviour in the areas of data sharing and reporting of UBOs and errors, in a manner that will benefit a wider network of stakeholders beyond the client-provider duality, and improve the standard of asset data accuracy across the board. Providers and clients with the flexibility and foresight to adjust their business models to take advantage of this new market place will benefit and thrive.
Overall, the Utility Survey Exchange portal will benefit the buried assets sector, and ultimately “UK plc”, by providing wider access to a valuable and currently under-exploited resource, by improving the accuracy of asset location records across the board, and by offering a practical solution to the problem of UBOs and cross-industry error reporting. Furthermore, it is intended to disrupt and improve the utility surveys market by providing a dynamic marketplace for the consumers and providers of those surveys that will incentivise and reward best practice.