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From a technical perspective, the public and private locate processes by which public and private utilities are physically traced and marked are very similar; in fact, the locate equipment, procedures and operational requirements are virtually the same. However, the process of how a public locate and private locate are conducted are somewhat different. A public or private locate technician will locate and mark a buried facility by working through the following procedural steps:

  1. ​Review records of a buried facility to understand its path and where the connection points are to perform an active locate.

  2. Physically connect their locate transmitter to a connection point and place a signal on the buried facility.

  3. Use their locate receiver to find and trace the signal placed on the buried facility. Sometimes using non-standard locating techniques such as ground penetrating radar or electromagnetic survey equipment.

  4. Mark the buried facility using one, or a variety of, marking methods (paint, flags, offset markers etc.).

  5. Prepare a locate report that documents the particulars for the locate including a sketch of the marks on the ground.

There are two main factors that differentiate public and private locates. The first considers the owner of the buried facility, and the second is in regard to the process of how the locator receives information from the facility owner.

Public locators mark buried facilities owned and maintained by the public utility companies. These facilities are positioned within the public right of way and on private property up to a point called the demarcation point that will vary for each utility owner. Private locators mark buried facilities owned and maintained by the private land owner, or their representative, and are located on private property after the public demarcation point. Both of these owners manage their buried facilities quite differently.

Information management is the primary factor which sets apart both private and public locators. A public locator is given drawings and access to facilities by the public utility owner, whereas, a private locator must request drawings and access from the person who hired their services. A private locator can be hired by a third-party excavator or directly by the private landowner. Unfortunately, 9 times out of 10, drawings are not provided to the private locator for a variety of reasons. The drawings may not exist, or the person receiving the request does not understand their importance, resulting in little effort to find them. Other factors can include, but are not limited to, out-of-date or inaccurate drawings, no access to connection points and utility rooms, and no private landowner facility support.

Consequently, private locators are often challenged to work “blind” and have to sleuth out the underground private facility network without any help from the private landowner. Challenged to protect underground assets, and often without support from the private landowner, the private locate contractor is contractually bound to a third-party client. This places the private locate contractor in a difficult position of providing complete results while being held accountable for restitution of errors and omissions beyond their control.

When a locator does not have the tools they need to do their job properly (i.e. access, drawings, or support from the facility owner), the RISK of missing or inaccurately locating a buried facility increases. Although the differences between public and private locates are clear, the true difference is that private locates have more RISK than public locates. Much of this RISK can be mitigated through the proper education of everyone involved in the excavating industry by OWNing Your Safety and KNOWing Before You Dig! If you want to learn more about the complex locate process, please sign up today for Utility Infrastructure Awareness training at

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