Several important events took place during the early 1980s that became basic components of Subsurface Utility Engineering.

IMPORTANT EARLY CONTRACTS.  In 1982, the County of Fairfax, Virginia, entered into a contract with So-Deep for locating (test holes). This was the first instance of a governmental body entering into a task-order basis contract for locating utilities. The County of Arlington, Virginia, soon followed. In 1983, as discussed in last week’s post, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) entered into a contract for designating (geophysical methods) and locating (test holes) utilities on a highway project, and in 1985, VDOT initiated a statewide contract with So-Deep for designating and locating work, the first such contract in the nation. 

It was found early on that the utility companies had very poor records on the locations of their subsurface facilities and consequently the one-call markings were often inaccurate or missing.  Jim Anspach was quoted at the time as saying:

We were determined to get good utility information in spite of not having utility records that were accurate and reliable; we repurposed geophysical technology, searched the world for new equipment, and replaced ‘pipe witching’ with science and limited utility exposure.

DESIGNATING AND LOCATING. At some point, questions arose regarding what to call the services that So-Deep was providing. Jim Anspach and Jeff Oakley, a Penn State physics graduate, did some brainstorming and developed the terms “designating” and “locating” to more accurately differentiate these functions. They rationalized that a utility was not located until it was exposed; until then, their existence and approximate location were designated by interpreting an energy field of some kind. 

IN-HOUSE SURVEY. At the request of VDOT, So-Deep hired an experienced land surveyor to develop its own survey capability and to manage the first VDOT contract.  Whereas many future providers subcontracted the survey work to local companies, having its own in-house survey unit provided So-Deep with better control over the quality of the work and was a differentiator in later years when competing with other providers.   

SEALED BY REGISTERED PROFESSIONAL. Maryland’s Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) entered into a contract with So-Deep in the mid-1980s to provide designating and locating services. Maryland statutes dictated that any information depicted on plans through survey work associated with these services, when used by a public agency, must be “sealed” by a registered professional. This was the first time any portion of the designating and/or locating work was required to be endorsed by a registered professional. This requirement set the stage for future development of SUE as a professional service rather than a contractor service.

These were important contributions to what would soon become Subsurface Utility Engineering and were differentiators during the 1990s when clients were trying to determine if what providers were claiming to be SUE really was SUE or not.  More about that later and more contributions in the late 1980s.

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