They may not be as visible as the typical utility pole, but underground vaults are a vital—and often overlooked—link in the utility service chain.
We may walk over them every day, but it does not pay to neglect them. For example, two major cities recently experienced “flying manhole covers” as a result of explosions occurring in underground vaults. Georgia Power cites “vibration from cables rubbing together as cars passed overhead” as creating a spark that blew five, 400+ pound manhole covers into the air in downtown Atlanta in 2013. A water main break mixed with road salt runoff was blamed in a blowout in Columbus earlier this year. Truly, knowing what lies beneath can prove vitally important to revenue, safety and security.
From our men and women in the field exploring the depths of vaults all over the country, here are five scary reasons you need to audit the condition and contents of your vaults regularly.
1. It might be a tight squeeze inside
From Zach in Alden’s Birmingham office comes this story: “One of the major violations commonly found in conduit structures is improper racking of the fiber facilities to the sides of the vault. When improperly racked, it not only creates a mess of tangled fiber and cable, which makes it hard for any new attaching party to enter the structure, it also creates a safety hazard for utility workers.”
What can owners do? Audit attacher activity in vaults regularly to prevent nasty, tangled surprises and help keep things safe and clear when workers visit.
2. What you find might bite
If it has four, six or eight legs, it is likely to crawl into your conduit at some point. Raising the manhole cover to see a flood and a “small herd of drowned rabbits”, or turning around to feel a “scorpion right next to you,” as Joint Use Manager Donnie has, can make for quite a workday.
What can you do? Vaults lie underground, so every hole cannot be patched. However, properly tracking conduit and performing regular inspections can alert you to issues like standing water, before any fuzzy friends move in.
3. You never know who you will find hiding down there
Illegal attachers figure your vault is “out of sight, out of mind”, and without regular trips down to see what everyone has been up to, they will be up to no good for as long as you allow.
What can you do? Using joint use management software to keep close track of legal attacher activity gives you the visibility to know with certainty who is supposed to be in your vaults and who is not. Bootlegs equal lost revenue, and headaches for attachers who are on the right side of the law.
4. For some, quality is a foreign concept
With all the different entities that visit your vaults, from contractors to attachers to other utility workers, mistakes are inevitable. Zach relates another story from a sample vault audit for a large telecom. Multiple violations were found and tied to a contracting company the company hired to do work on its behalf. “The telecom company would have struggled to enforce their standards on third party attaching companies when their own systems and structures were also in violation of the standards they had set in place.”
What can you do? Audit vaults often to keep tabs on work in-progress and recently completed jobs, then note changes in a cloud-based joint management solution for easy reference.
5. The things people will do will surprise you
From used restaurant grease to road trash to used needles, the variety of cast-off junk that could be sitting in your vaults is endless. All cause potential safety and health hazards to your workers.
What can you do? Conduct a clean sweep, and do it regularly. People are not going to stop using any open vault to toss their garbage any time soon. Being proactive about conduit could be the difference between your vault being the block’s best dumpster, or one of your most valuable assets.