Imagine each utility pole across the world’s landscape as an individual entity with a position on the earth and a set of circumstances that makes it unique. Now, imagine if each pole could “speak.” What would it say? It depends on the questions you ask—and whether the pole is speaking a language that easily communicates its most important information. I would hope it would not ask to be set free...that would be awkward.
GPS coordinate are a typical way utility pole owners track poles. Entered into a standard spreadsheet, GPS coordinates identify utility poles with a unique set of numerals corresponding to the pole’s position on the earth; a series of whole numbers plus decimal degrees or decimal minutes delineated N, S, E or W. While GPS is great for defining the location of a pole, it is not particularly effective at communicating accurately or in detail. Here are a few reasons why:
- Confusion. GPS coordinates consist of a string of numbers with decimals or “minutes,” including a directional indicator. Most are more than ten or twelve digits long. Easily transposed or recorded incorrectly, theses numbers are simply cumbersome to deal with, inviting error in recording and reading and identifying poles.
- Precision. When poles are positioned very close together, as with a drop pole and a line pole for example, determining which asset is being referred to can become a matter of one or two digits in a string of a dozen. Again, reading and interpreting this volume of data is less than ideal and not intuitive.
- Margin of error. While highly sensitive GPS equipment does exist, inexpensive equipment can perform inaccurately or lead to confusion between two poles relatively close to one another. This happens all the time.
What “language” should a utility pole owner consider having their poles “speak” then? Our recommendation: via asset tags—visible, readable badges emblazoned with barcodes and/or embedded with RFID chips. Here are a few reasons why:
- Easy to place. Asset tags are simple to install and can even be placed efficiently at the same time as GPS capture during an inventory or inspection. Why do both? Because “multi-lingual” poles convey even more information than those that simply speak one language.
- Longevity. Made of durable materials and impervious to UV exposure, dirt, solvents and chemicals, asset tags manufactured today can last 25 years and beyond, making your initial investment a long-lasting one. “These tags need to be resistant to temperatures, weather and UV exposure and even rodents and birds,” says Alden Systems’ CEO John Sciarabba. In many cases "the tag will stick around longer than the pole will.”
- Clear and simple. Unlike GPS’s long, invisible strings of digits, asset tags give unambiguous identification to poles, a benefit for attachers and even the public. In other words, all parties get an easy-to-read name tag, making communication with pole owners simple and clear.
- Aids in inventory and joint use management. While GPS creates a position on a map for poles, asset tags serve as a handy identifier for cataloging and inventorying all kind of information about assets. Entered into a robust joint use management solution, they become a reference point for a wide variety of information, from pole condition to maintenance records and attachment loads, to, of course, pole location.
So, what language do your poles speak? If GPS is the dialect of choice, teaching your utility poles a new, more robust way to communicate may be in order.