How Underground Utility Maps Evolve?

By superadmin on April 16, 2018 in Blog

Sustainable urban development also largely depends on how underground utility maps evolve. The supporting subsurface infrastructure affects how new establishments are built. Whether the structures are placed above or beneath the ground, the exact locations of all subsurface utilities have to be accounted for.

Back then underground utilities might have only consisted of water pipes. On the other hand, electrical cables are positioned overhead. The “network” of utilities was still comprehensible because of low population density and fewer buildings back then.

Cities grow upwards and within

But with recent rapid urban development, cities and the buildings continuously grow upwards. The sprout of massive skyscrapers now demands a stronger foundation and a better planned environment.

In addition, more blocks of lands within a city become denser. This is a result of increased economic growth and activity. The surface already becomes crowded and complex. Wait until you get a view of the subsurface infrastructure consisting of the complex networks of water pipes, gas lines, sewage pipes, electrical cables and telecommunication lines.

In fact, the underground structures could be more complex and more crucial than the above-the-ground ones. That’s because how cities work largely depends on the proper functioning of the pipes, cables and other lines underground.

Water must be reliably transported in the different parts of the city. Sewage and drainage systems underground should be working reliably 24/7 to avoid pollution and contamination. Electrical lines should remain intact to support the productive and leisure activities above the ground. Telecommunication lines should be always working to continuously facilitate communication and transfer of information within and outward the city.

As a result, the growth of cities introduces new and unique challenges. It’s especially the case with placing new structures. Engineers and developers are now required to work around the existing structures both above and beneath the ground. During all phases of the construction (from excavation up to finalising the project), the location of all the utilities underground should be accounted for.

Safety is the priority

Blind digging can result to damage to water pipes, electrical cables and other utility lines. More importantly, it may result to injuries and fatalities to the crew. For instance, accidentally hitting the water pipes might result to high-pressure water coming out, which may propel debris and other objects. These might then hit the crew and lead to accidents. A more dangerous (and possibly fatal) case is when electrical cables are hit. Workers around the site (especially the ones who made direct contact) might get electrocuted.

Whether the workers are using shovels or heavy equipment, blind digging presents serious safety risks. It’s also the case when the crew is relying on an inaccurate underground utility map. The markings might tell them that there’s no electrical line in that certain spot (but actually there is). The crew might then use a powerful tool to dig in that spot instead of working around. It could then be a catastrophic result just because of wrong information.

As discussed earlier, underground infrastructure is also growing in complexity. If there are massive developments in the city, expect a higher level of complexity underground. In addition, subsurface infrastructure also undergoes continual changes. In other words, more pipes and utility lines are being installed each month. The locations of old utilities might have also changed as a result of placement of new ones or other causes (erosion, slight earth movement, vibrations).

That’s why engineers don’t rely solely on historical records. The drawings and markings might now be inaccurate (the drawings might not be according to scale). Also, the locations and types of utilities underground might be far from updated.

Getting the most up-to-date information

The key to making the job site safer when digging is by having the most up-to-date information for the team. Although all safety practices must always be implemented even when the locations of all utilities are verified, accurate utility maps can make the job easier, faster and safer for the team.

How do we acquire the most up-to-date information? Historical records are still important as a starting reference. Engineers will have an initial idea of what types of utilities are present underground.

To take it a step further, engineers also work with professional utility locators to identify the lines and pinpoint the locations of the utilities. This includes verifying the depth and alignment of the pipes and cables underground. This is a crucial piece of information for any construction or excavation team.

It’s especially the case in placing a new structure in a dense area. Expect to have a complex network of pipes underground. Engineers and crew have to work around to improve job site safety and prevent interruptions to the community. This also contributes to speeding up the project because there will be fewer interruptions and delays.

Remember that underground utility maps continuously evolve as a result of human activity and natural causes. That’s why professional locators also continuously work with the engineers and developers throughout the project. One mistake and it could spell disaster to the whole project (and more critically, to the workers directly involved in the job).

How to acquire an accurate utility map

Acquiring the most up-to-date information about the location and identity of utilities is the proactive approach when starting to plan the project. Some projects have undergone delays (and even total halt) because utility maps were used too late. This then resulted to shifting of blame in addition to costly delays, legal issues and serious worker injuries.

This is a huge challenge even in well-planned cities such as Sydney and Melbourne. Kilometres of pipes and cables underground can make utility mapping difficult and time-consuming. The safe placement of both above-the-surface and new underground infrastructure has now become more complex.

As a result, the higher level of complexity now demands more advanced solutions when locating existing utilities (both active and abandoned). For example, professional locators often use an integrated method when identifying the identities and locations of utilities. Electromagnetic, ground penetrating radar and underground CCTV inspection are just some of those modern solutions.

Aside from safe placement of new infrastructure above the surface of the ground, the proper methodology in utility mapping is also crucial when inspecting existing water pipes, telecom and electrical cables, sewage pipes, storm water drains, storage tanks and even a few of the geophysical features of the site.

Whether it’s for maintenance or repair, the pipes and lines of concern should first be identified and located first. For example, mobile CCTV inspection underground could provide us a complete visual information about the condition of the subsurface pipes (even at the “inaccessible” areas such as junctions and bends). Perhaps a certain area was blocked by tree roots or debris. It’s also possible that some pipes warped due to temperature changes and man-made causes.

The importance of how underground utility maps evolve

The presence of subsurface utilities in cities adds another level of complexity when planning whether to construct a new structure above the ground or place a new network of utilities and other structures underground (e.g. tunnels, railways).

Aside from studying the features above the ground, it’s also important to study the risks and hazards underground by acquiring the most up-to-date information about subsurface utilities. All these pieces of information will provide a more complete and accurate picture of the job site.

As a result, the engineering team and crew can use that information as a foundation when planning the layout and design of buildings, pipelines, roads and utilities. Aside from improving workplace safety, this is a responsible and sustainable way of further developing a city. After all, the subsurface infrastructure plays a crucial role in ensuring proper urban functions and human living.

For example, many construction and excavation firms call us here at One Search Locators if they require an accurate map of the subsurface infrastructure within their job site (and possibly the surrounding areas). This is to ensure worker safety because the resulting map and markings will be accurate. In addition, this leads to fewer delays which can significantly speed up the project.

Contact us here today at One Search Locators and our certified Service Locators will assess your site. Our client-focused team can arrive on site within 24 hours upon your request. We service Sydney, Melbourne, Newcastle, Wollongong and surrounding areas. We provide fixed rates and you can call us today for a free quote (1300 530 420).