What lies below? Can you help create international standards?

Guest blog by Andy Ryan, Senior Technical Product Manager

gv3When I go somewhere new, I usually look up a map (OS of course) before I go. I’m not quite sure why I do, but it’s a habit of mine which my children tease me about. In the world of business, when location is involved then you probably do the same, often without realising it. Using a sat nav to route a delivery van, ascertaining if a house you want to buy is on a flood plain, reviewing a site for a new development, or planning some underground pipe replacement all involve ‘maps’. But what if the map was blank or only partially complete, or you had to ask lots of other different people to send you bits of information that you had to stick together and even then you were not quite sure if it was complete?

When you need to work under the ground this is how it can feel. Lots of organisations have information, but it can be hard to share the information quickly and to common standards. This creates delays, unanticipated disruptions, extra costs and danger to those working in these areas. This is a widely recognised problem and the direct costs to the UK of accidental damage to utilities alone has been estimated at £150 million, with associated indirect costs, such as traffic disruption, of ten times this*. If other potential costs or savings are factored in, for example assessing the potential of brownfield sites, identifying infrastructure at risk from subsidence or tree roots, then the benefits of a map that includes what lies below ground increases significantly. The Treasury estimate that greater cross-sector collaboration with infrastructure networks across GB could save the economy £3 billion#

The recent Geovation challenge on Underground Assets focussed on this issue and sought possible solutions to some of these problems. OS is also involved in other initiatives (for example, working with Future Cities Catapult and British Geological Survey) that seek to explore the relationship between the surface landscape and what lies below. The common theme is to identify the challenges and opportunities associated with a joined-up above-and-below ground ‘map’ that allows users to have access to all available information.

Have your say on international standards for managing the underground infrastructure

And it’s not just a UK issue. The problem is worldwide and the Open Geospatial Consortium has recently issued a Request for Information to seek knowledge on the current state and future direction of information standards for modelling, mapping, and managing underground infrastructure. By agreeing common standards then society can begin to move towards a better ‘map’ of below ground to match those available above ground.

This is where you can help with the Request For Information, for example:

  • Do you use any existing relevant standards for sub surface information?
  • Have you tried to solve the problem of what lies beneath, and have lessons learned which you can share?
  • Are you involved in technologies existing or anticipated that enable data capture?
  • Can you provide an assessment of the potential benefits?
  • Recognition of potential risks in particular by identifying relations between features?
  • Do you have an understanding of current processes including legal requirements?
  • Are you a customer who is having issues related to lack of sub surface information?
  • Anything else of relevance.

If yes is the answer to any of the above, please respond to the RFI. The more responses there are, the better the outcome should be.

  • GLA (2014) GLA Networked Utilities: Summary of Stakeholder Workshop, Arup: London.

# HM Treasury (2013) National Infrastructure Plan 2013, HM Treasury: London

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