National Grid Reduces Damages by 22% in 1 Year
Location: NY, MA, RI
National Grid reduced damages in their downstate New York territory for nearly a decade before plateauing around 1.6 damages per thousand 811 tickets. In 2016, the utility partnered with Urbint to further drive down their damages and maximize their damage prevention efforts.
About National Grid
National Grid is a multinational electricity and gas utility company headquartered in London that operates in three northeastern U.S. states: New York, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. The utility’s downstate New York territory, which includes most of New York City and all of Long Island, services 1.9 million gas customers and has 12,000 miles of gas transmission and distribution pipeline.
Robert Terjesen manages the downstate New York gas damage prevention program. His team consists of four managers, 20 inspectors, 200 locators, and 17 contract “damage prevention advisors.” The territory averages nearly 600,000 811 tickets per year.
National Grid reduced its damage rate, a metric that shows the number of damages per 1,000 811 tickets, in the downstate New York territory by implementing universal underground damage prevention best practices. The utility’s damage rate was 5.36 damages per thousand in 2006 and 1.89 damages per thousand in 2014, a 65 percent improvement. After several years of progress, however, the utility’s damage rate plateaued.
“Damages to our gas system could have catastrophic results, so even one damage is too many. We are striving to get to zero,” Terjesen said.
Like many utilities, National Grid also had limited staff tackling a large volume of tickets. “My staff and I were trying to identify where we needed to be, but there’s no way we can manually analyze 600,000 tickets. We were basing what we thought the riskiest excavations were off of feel,” Terjesen said. “We thought we were doing a good job, but the numbers don’t lie.”
Furthermore, the utility was experiencing higher-than-average no call-in damages on Long Island. “Nationally, the number was around 24 or 25 percent every year. On Long Island, between 40 and 45 percent of our damages were the result of excavators not calling 811 before working,” Terjesen said. “We partnered with local municipalities and one call centers and spent a lot of money on advertising to the excavating community. We moved the needle a little bit, but we were still an outlier in the industry.”
National Grid needed a way to efficiently identify their highest risk excavations so they could best allocate their small team. They also needed help determining where no call-in damage was most likely to occur on Long Island so they could best target their 811 awareness campaigns.
National Grid partnered with Urbint to implement Lens for Damage Prevention, an AI-powered software that identifies high-risk excavations. Urbint Lens examines a utility’s historical incident data as well as internal data such as the age, type, and location of an asset, and combines it with Urbint’s Model of the World—a representation of external forces that surround and impact underground assets including soil conditions, elevation, weather, population density, and construction—to assign risk scores to 811 tickets.
“The higher the risk, the greater the potential for damage on that particular site,” Terjesen explained. “This allows us to be more targeted with our limited resources. Urbint helps us know where to send our field personnel every morning.”
Urbint Lens found that the majority of National Grid’s damages were coming from just a small percentage of their tickets—and that one of the strongest predictors of damages was which excavation company was doing the digging. Armed with this insight, National Grid was able to target problem excavators and proactively intervene on risky job sites.
“We needed to get excavators to recognize risks and change their behavior. That’s where our inspectors and advisors come into play. They visit job sites with risky excavators to explain what is making this particular job riskier than another, explain some of the challenges that are going to come up as they progress throughout the job,” Terjesen said.
To reduce no call-in excavation damage on Long Island, National Grid turned to Urbint Lens’ no call-in feature. Urbint Lens for Damage Prevention is the only damage prevention software that provides insights on where non-ticketed excavations are likely to occur and which are the most likely to result in infrastructure damage.
“I never thought this was anything that Urbint could help us with. How can you tell us who's going to be somewhere if they haven't notified 811?,” Terjesen asked. “But Urbint factors leading indicators to construction activity and tells us where we should focus our outreach efforts.”
With help from Urbint, National Grid reduced its damage rate in downstate New York from 1.6 damages per thousand in 2016 to 1.01 damages per thousand in 2020—a 37 percent improvement. Furthermore, the utility reduced its number of damages by 15 percent. “It’s incredible for us to see it happen in just a few years,” Terjesen said.
The utility also saw improvements from the most damage-prone excavators. As an example, one large excavator reduced its high damage rate of 6.0 damages per thousand in 2015 to 2.0 damages per thousand in 2019. “Not only have their damages come down, but the rate at which they're damaging our facilities has also been on a trend downwards,” Terjesen said.
As a risky excavator’s track record improved, Urbint Lens automatically adjusted its risk scores to reflect what was happening in the field. “The software recognizes when an excavator’s behavior is improving. As that continues to happen, more of their tickets get a lower risk score,” Terjesen explained. “They’re not damaging us as frequently, so their incoming 811 tickets don’t have as high of a risk score as they used to.”
The utility was also able to improve its relationships with excavators through its coordinated education efforts. “Excavators were taken aback when we started visiting their sites. They thought, ‘I usually only hear from the utility when I damage something and they send me a bill. Why are they here now?’,” Terjesen said. “As those visits and conversations happened more frequently, it changed our relationship. What used to be an adversarial relationship was becoming one of trust.”
Finally, using the Lens for Damage Prevention no call-in feature, National Grid is able to better target their 811 awareness campaigns on Long Island. “It’s telling us where we should focus our outreach efforts. We can educate more, or we can talk to municipal leadership within a town and see if they will change the rules around work permit applications,” Terjesen said.
In just a few years of working with Urbint, National Grid reduced their damage rate and the number of damages, improved their relationships with the excavation community and positively affected their behavior, and better concentrated their 811 awareness campaign targeting. Encouraged by results of the three-year technology deployment, National Grid in 2019 made an equity investment in Urbint via National Grid Partners, the company's strategic investment and innovation arm.