The American Society of Civil Engineers’ (ASCE) Standard Guideline for the Collection and Depiction of Existing Subsurface Utility Data was published and distributed in 2003. The ASCE standard makes it very clear that SUE is a process, not a technology. It defines SUE as a branch of engineering practice that involves managing certain risks associated with:
- utility mapping at appropriate quality levels,
- utility coordination,
- utility relocation design and coordination,
- utility condition assessment,
- communication of utility data to concerned parties,
- utility relocation cost estimates,
- implementation of utility accommodation policies, and
- utility design.
These activities, combined with traditional records research and site surveys, and utilizing new technologies such as surface geophysical methods and non-destructive vacuum excavation, provide “quality levels” of information.
SUE Quality Levels
Quality levels may be thought of as degrees of risk, or how much information is really needed to adequately design and construct a project. Engineering plans typically contain disclaimers as to the accuracy of the utility information. The use of quality levels allows project owners to decide what quality level of information they want to apply to their risk management challenge and to certify on project plans that a certain level of accuracy and comprehensiveness has been provided.
There are four recognized quality levels of underground utility information ranging from Quality Level D (the lowest level) to Quality Level A (the highest level).
The highest level of accuracy and comprehensiveness is generally not needed at every point along a utility’s path, only where conflicts with design features are most likely to occur. Hence, lesser levels of information may be appropriate at points where fewer conflicts or no conflicts are expected.
Each of the four quality levels is described as follows:
Quality Level D, is the most basic level of information for utility locations. It comes solely from existing utility records or verbal recollections, both typically unreliable sources. It may provide an overall “feel” for the congestion of utilities, but is often highly limited in terms of comprehensiveness and accuracy and is useful primarily for project planning and route selection activities.
Quality Level C, is probably the most commonly used level of information. It involves surveying visible utility facilities (e.g., manholes, valve boxes, etc.) and correlating this information with existing utility records. When using this information, it is not unusual to find that many underground utilities have been either omitted or erroneously plotted. Its usefulness, therefore, is primarily on rural projects where utilities are not prevalent, or are not too expensive to repair or relocate.
Quality Level B, involves the application of appropriate surface geophysical methods to determine the existence and horizontal position of virtually all utilities within the project limits. This activity is called “designating”. The information obtained in this manner is surveyed to project control. It addresses problems caused by inaccurate utility records, abandoned or unrecorded facilities, and lost references. The proper selection and application of surface geophysical techniques for achieving Quality Level B data is critical. Information provided by Quality Level B can enable the accomplishment of preliminary engineering goals. Decisions regarding location of storm drainage systems, footers, foundations and other design features can be made to successfully avoid conflicts with existing utilities. Slight adjustments in design can produce substantial cost savings by eliminating utility relocations.
Quality Level A, also known as “locating”, is the highest level of accuracy presently available and involves the full use of the subsurface utility engineering services. It provides information for the precise plan and profile mapping of underground utilities through the nondestructive exposure of underground utilities, and also provides the type, size, condition, material and other characteristics of underground features.