How the Common Ground Alliance came to be

pel610 how the common ground alliance came to be

March is once again the time for the US Common Ground Alliance’s annual conference and exhibition. It’s being held this year in Las Vegas from March 8 to 10 and PelicanCorp will once again be exhibiting, along with over 220 other companies.

Co-inciding with the event is the CGA’s annual meeting, on March 9, and that event will see release of the 13th edition of the CGA’s Best Practices Guide. (It will be available from commongroundalliance.com/best-practices-guide).

This extremely useful and important document has an interesting history, linked intimately with that of the CGA. Rather than being an initiative of the CGA, as you might expect, the best practices guide is in fact the raison d’etre for the CGA.

Both have their origins in 1998 when the US Congress passed the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA 21). It required the US Department of Transportation (USDOT) to conduct a study of best practices in place nationwide for enhancing worker safety, protecting vital underground infrastructure and ensuring public safety during excavation activities conducted in the vicinity of existing underground facilities.

USDOT delegated responsibility for conducting the study to the Office of Pipeline Safety (now the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA))

The OPS invited stakeholders from underground utility, safety and damage prevention industries to a kick-off meeting in Arlington Virginia to discuss how to implement the study.  According to the current version of the guide, “This unprecedented gathering facilitated by the government provided a unique opportunity for affected industries to address serious issues that previously had not been addressed at the federal level by all parties involved.

“In essence, the government was giving industry an opportunity to get its house in order. … For the first time, the federal government brought these industries together and established an organisational structure to address the multiple facets of underground utility safety and damage prevention. In addition to designating ‘best practices’, the group had to address each stakeholder group’s responsibilities in the one call process.”

That study became known as The Common Ground Study. Nine study groups were created and charged with identifying best practices in their respective areas of expertise: planning and design, one call centres, locating and marking, excavation, mapping, compliance, public awareness and education, reporting and evaluation, and emerging technologies.

In addition a 14 member linking team was created and, in overall charge of the project, a nine member steering team.

According to the current guide: “The study’s chief success was overcoming two obstacles—fragmented information and the lack of stakeholder cooperation and collaboration. This was no easy task, but after several months of fits and starts, the stakeholders came together and the study was underway.”

It explains: “One of the most controversial elements of the process for determining a ‘best practice’ was the use of the consensus process. For a practice to become a ‘best practice’, all stakeholder groups must agree that they could live with the practice; if one group disagreed, the practice would not become a ‘best practice’. It was realised early on that the final product would not stand unless all stakeholders agreed with the content.”

The study identified and validated over 130 best practices to enhance safety and prevent damages to underground facilities. In July 1999, 11 months after the kick-off meeting, the results were presented to the Secretary of Transportation.

Following this it was decided that the study should continue and that the best practices guide should be a living document. The Common Ground Alliance was formed to take on this role, and incorporated on 15 June 2000.

At its formation its purposes were listed as: prevent damage to underground infrastructure and increase safety by fostering a sense of shared responsibility for the protection of underground facilities; support research and development; conduct public awareness and education programs; identify and disseminate stakeholder best practices; serve as a clearinghouse for damage data collection analysis and dissemination.

With minor modifications it continues to fulfil those aims today.

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