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Solving The U.S. Government's Underground Infrastructure Problem

Solving The U.S. Government's Underground Infrastructure Problem

In his annual State of the Union address last month, President Barack Obama emphasized the need for the U.S. government to update the country's infrastructure.

"America’s energy sector is just one part of an aging infrastructure badly in need of repair," President Obama said. "Tonight, I propose a 'Fix-It-First' program to put people to work as soon as possible on our most urgent repairs."

While the president mentioned the country's need for better roads, bridges and schools, he all but ignored the perhaps even more severe problems with America's underground infrastructure.

Save for one brief mention of our need for "modern pipelines to withstand a storm," the president seemed focused on America's above-ground infrastructure.

Reading too much into what is said and isn't said during State of the Union addresses is probably foolish, but the fact of the matter is that the nation's underground infrastructure is aging poorly, and the maps and techniques used to locate underground assets are in even worse shape.

Out of site, out of mind

Unfortunately, those who work in the underground asset industry are used to dealing with being ignored. Despite the fact that many assets across the nation are in need of repair or replacement, only about a third of municipal utility records are complete and up-to-date (per The National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences).

So why haven't these problems gotten the attention of their above-ground counterparts?  Writing for Professional Surveyor Magazine, lobbyist John Byrd speculates it's because of a persisting "out of site, out of mind" sentiment associated with underground assets in years past.

Bridges and roads are seen by millions of people every day, but very few people even think about the thousands of miles of pipelines and other underground assets that stretch across the country on a regular basis

This fact has long made it difficult for politicians and other decision-makers to justify spending money on underground infrastructure research or repairs.

However, the problem has become so dire in recent years it's now impossible to ignore.

Finally, some progress

As Byrd writes, Congress and other government agencies have finally started to discuss ways to upgrade the nation's underground infrastructure, and perhaps even more importantly, map it.

Senator Jay Rockefeller addressed the issue at a recent hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee, and the Transportation Research Board's Strategic Highway Research Program and the Government Accountability Office have both researched the importance of underground infrastructure information in recent years. 

Interest in the problem is picking up, and Byrd offers calls-to-action for surveying and mapping professionals at the end of his article, imploring them to take a lead role in solving the problem.

Focusing on a solution

One of the main obstacles to progress in developing an underground infrastructure database is the fact that it's so difficult and expensive to locate underground assets by traditional means.

However, a breakthrough product in underground asset marking may be able to accelerate this process and help convince decision-makers of its feasibility: underground RFID marking systems. This revolutionary technology makes it easy for utility workers to locate underground assets.

Once an asset has been marked with an RFID tag, information about it can be stored within a database and it can be easily found in the future by using a three-step process:

  1. Use a GPS locator to get close.
  2. Find the tag with a magnetic locator.
  3. Read the tag with an RFID reader.

If public utilities have access to such a system, it can be used to mark and map the location of underground assets nationwide and America's underground infrastructure will finally get its due.

For more information about the InfraMarker, Berntsen International's underground RFID marking system, visit the InfraMarker product page or request a catalog today.



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