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Real-Life Tales of Conduit Horror

POSTED BY: Ashley Little on 10.31.2014

shutterstock_61882039It is Halloween, and here on the Alden Joint Use Communications blog, we are thinking about some scary stuff. Are we having nightmares about zombies? Seeing witches around every corner? Hearing ghosts rustle down the hall? No.

The horrors on our minds are of a completely different nature: the kind that happen underground…in conduit vaults all over the country.

In all seriousness, conduit horrors are real. A vital link in the utility service chain, underground vaults and the equipment they contain can be overlooked but are an incredibly important part of keeping our nation powered. Perhaps because they are out of view—closed off and generally inaccessible to the public—conduit vaults do not share the scrutiny and attention that above-ground plant assets like those on poles. Nonetheless, the vaults are there, and within their depths can hide violations that sound like nightmares.

In the spirit of saftey and this spookiest of seasons, we asked Zach Hester in Alden’s Birmingham office to sit by the virtual campfire and tell us his best conduit horror stories. As a result, we received two for the record-books. Enjoy and try not to cover your eyes.

Splice Case Scariness  

Upon opening a manhole to access the vault, a splice case was immediately discovered. That is a problem for two reasons:               

  • No rogue splice cases allowed. No company, other than the owner of the particular system of vaults, is allowed to house a splice case in the structure. So, right off the bat, there was a major contract violation. The bottom line: if a third-party company wants to use a splice case, they are required to build their own structures to house it and then re-enter the main vault system with their fiber/cable.   
  • Zip ties and tripping, oh my. More importantly than finding the splice case, was seeing where it was located. In this case, the illegal splice case was zip-tied to the access ladder, created a tripping hazard and causing a major safety risk for vault access.

Ghostly Permitting Applications

During one field visit, construction violations were discovered that had been continuously repeated in a quarter-mile stretch of a conduit system.  Due to the cable/fiber not having a Company ID tag, the violations were tracked from vault to vault in hopes of finding some sort of identification that would allow the Conduit System Owner to contact the company in violation. As the search continued, the third-party company was actually located performing ongoing construction in a vault.  A quick call and record check later, it was discovered the third-party company had actually applied for access to the vaults, but that the contract and route had not yet been approved or signed.  Feeling ignored, the third-party company decided to forgo the approval process and moved ahead with construction.  Work was promptly shut down and construction violations were recorded and designated for correction when, or if, the route and contract were to be approved in the future.

What can be done?

Common paperwork issues can cause a lot of problems. With tremendous backlogs of applications and approvals, some conduit system owners simply cannot stay ahead of the permitting process. Use of a robust joint use management system can help, especially one where all approvals come through a centralized system, there is a guided process designed for each application with a visual database available to view and manage conduit systems in a live environment. Proper joint use management, aided by great software, cuts down on backlogs, streamlines work, and makes underground vaults less horrific everywhere.

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