History of the Common Ground Alliance
Common Ground Study
In 1998, the U.S. Congress passed the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA 21). In this legislation, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) was instructed 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.
The USDOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) convened a meeting of stakeholders from underground utility safety and damage prevention industries. Each major stakeholder group designated representatives to participate in the study.
In all, 162 individuals participated in the study, representing stakeholders from across the nation including oil and gas transmission and distribution, telecommunications, railroads, utilities, electric, water, sewer, cable TV, one call centers, excavators, locators, design engineers, regulators, and government entities at federal, state, and local levels.
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 had to agree that they could live with the practice; if one group disagreed, the practice would not become a “best practice.” To this day, consensus is used by CGA committees and in identifying “best practices.”
The Common Ground 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 study was presented to the Secretary of Transportation.
Establishment of the Common Ground Alliance
After the Common Ground Study was presented to the Secretary of Transportation, PHMSA was asked to facilitate and sponsor what became known as the Damage Prevention Path Forward. On June 15, 2000, the work of the team was completed when the Common Ground Alliance received its Certificate of Incorporation from the District of Columbia.
When established, the Common Ground Alliance identified the following purposes:
- 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.
The organization’s motto was and continues to be “Damage Prevention Is a Shared Responsibility.”
In line with CGA’s founding philosophy, the current CGA mission is to “prevent damage to underground utility infrastructure and protect those who live and work near these important assets through the shared responsibility of our stakeholders.”
There are currently 16 stakeholder groups participating in the CGA: electric, engineering/design, equipment manufacturing, excavator, gas transmission, gas distribution, insurance, locator, one call center, oil, public works, railroad, road builder, state regulator, emergency services, and telecommunications.
The CGA consists of working committees populated by the general membership. The committees include Best Practices, Technology, Educational Programs, Data Reporting and Evaluation, Regional Partner, Stakeholder Advocacy Committee, and One Call Systems International.
Even though any CGA member can participate in committee discussions, a “Primary” is designated for each stakeholder group by its respective member on the Board of Directors. The Primary’s responsibility is to act as a spokesperson for their stakeholder group and to participate in consensus decisions when necessary. This ensures that each stakeholder group has an equal say in the outcome of committee work, decisions, and products.
The Best Practices document continues to be the “go to” resource by all stakeholders, governments, and associated industries when addressing safety and damage prevention issues internally, as well as on the local, state, and national levels.