As the major representative body for locators in Australia, NULCA today provides essential leadership and support to its members and works to eliminate network damages, personal injury and costs to the community during excavation and construction activities. Here, we uncover the history of the association and the events that laid the foundation for the NULCA as we know it today.

NULCA Australia started in 2004 after some industry pioneers recognised the need to legitimise locating as a career and

create opportunities for professional and organisational development in Australia. Following in the direction of the American brand of the same name, the Australian association was established via a formation committee and the inaugural AGM in July 2005 saw the appointment of the first voted committee.

2000s Equipment. Image/NULCA

Of course, an association needs members, however, finding them was not as easy as it is today. Using the yellow pages directory under the category “Detectors Electronic” various businesses nationwide were found and contacted by either fax or postal letter advising of the intent of this emerging Association and encouraging them to join. The new heading “Underground Service Locators” was effective in time for the 2008 issue of the Yellow Pages Metropolitan and Regional Directories after NULCA submitted a written letter of request – and what must have been a satisfactory response to a questionnaire from the Yellow pages to members to confirm that locating was a legitimate occupation.

Early objectives
One key objective of NULCA was to open doors and make things easier for members and ultimately the locating industry as a whole. This was done by identifying the needs of the locator; for example, educating insurers on what we do so they could create policies that cover us correctly, or giving business confidence to operators by connecting equipment suppliers who could bring the latest technologies and improve credibility of our profession.

Further to this, the NULCA sought to create avenues for employers to find employees, trading posts and most importantly provide a platform for knowledge sharing. The culmination of these efforts and success of these objectives is evident by the feeling of community among members today.

Embracing all disciplines
With cross over in the spatial and mapping disciplines an attractive value add for many, the modern locator has access to a number of speciality tools, cloud-based platforms and dedicated NULCA Member Suppliers providing virtually round the clock support.

NULCA has embraced any variation to the meaning of locating and recognises that as a collective, every experience can help shape damage avoidance and safety around utilities strategies for business at all levels in the design, construction and ground disturbance sector.

Augmented Reality. Image/NULCA

Being a Locator requires one of the most important operational tools – plans. Plans are a starting point for any site investigations as they guide us to what we should be looking for. The Dial Before You Dig (DBYD) – now Before You Dig Australia – referral service was just as important then as it is now however, network operator participation was low, email was limited, plan rooms were manual and coordinating site works with plans in hand was far more difficult.

Trent Wray, who has been a Jemena employee of 29 years – and 20 of those working with DBYD plan distribution across three states and two territories – said that in the early days plans were distributed via fax or by posting a large mapping tile from their CAD based system. Getting information from the network operators at the speed we can is something we take for granted these days.

Aligning to the needs of industry and expectations from the Before You Dig Australia users, the more recent enhancement to its GIS automated system includes property connections to further assist in asset locating.

Current day
Fast forward to the current day and the locating industry has greater traction than ever before. Paul Forbes, a NULCA founding member who has been in the industry since 2000, notes how much has changed in the attitude of his customers over the last two decades.

“We worked hard to build a client base that valued our contributions to their activities. Previously we could not be so picky, there was definitely a ‘tick and flick’ culture where getting a locate done was because they were told to not because they valued it,” Mr Forbes said.

Since its inception, NULCA has had six presidents and one chairman – following the change in 2020 from an incorporated association to a not for profit, ASIC registered public company limited. This change enabled NUCA to future proof its operational plans and increase its ability to operate at a national level eliminating state law restrictions.

Former NUCLA president and incumbent Chair, Ian Lambert, has led the way in a number of significant milestones. In 2010 he saw the creation of Australian Standard 5488 Subsurface Utility Information (SUI), now currently in its third iteration. This standard provided an avenue for locators, surveyors, engineers and designers to understand expectations on scope of work and deliverables.

Adopting AS5488 quality levels on field markings as well as the colour system assigned to specific utility types is now very common practice.

In 2015, NULCA supported the introduction of a certified locator program. The locating industry is still lacking governance in training and qualification, NULCA worked closely with then DBYD QLD to develop an assessment criterion that was endorsed by utility owners.

The network operators themselves didn’t – and generally still don’t – provide rules or guidelines on who has permission to access their networks.

For a customer in need of a locate there was no way to differentiate the experience and therefore quality of a locating professional. NULCA influenced the RIICCM202 training course, delivered through JB Hunter Technology, and continues to provide training materials to registered training organisations to increase the skills and understanding of locators.

TAFE NSW has since incorporated an elective module of SUI into its Surveying Associate Diploma. TAFE Teacher and long-term locator/ surveyor within the Roads Department of Transport for NSW, Vito Zec, said that “there are many choices for surveyors, making our students aware of the opportunities as a Locator supports business’s whom otherwise need to train [graduates] from scratch.”

NULCA is exploring ways to support TAFE NSW students, such as a student membership so they get more exposure to this world.

NULCA has a membership base of more than 260 member, however that number can be deceiving when it comes to ascertaining just how many locators are out there. An NULCA member is a nominated representative of an organisation and there could be 20 employees of that same organisation listed as associate members.

NULCA founding member, former President and current administrative officer, Shirlee Cook, said “This model was adopted because we are not for profit and wanted to keep costs down. Further to this, most member benefits are for the organisation or business not the individual.”

Not all members are locators, and NULCA also extends its acceptance to the non destructive digging, under boring, plumbing and electrical trades.

Digital reliability
Looking to the future, NULCA has exciting plans and partnerships to further build its community and raise the profile of locating within industry.

Reliability Issue Untraceable Utility. Image/NULCA

The board looks to continue its quarterly member meetings and newsletters, seek and provide opportunities in advocacy, training and awareness as well as build on NULCA’s portfolio of member benefits.

The age of augmented reality, digital engineering and digital twins has arrived and their quality is dependent on reliable information feeding them. NULCA’s meetings allow a platform of discussion on techniques, avenues to resolve concerns and continue the Locating and damage avoidance learning curve by sharing experiences.

Providing these forums is an important part of creating this reliability. NULCA Australia has and will continue to work for its members.

Featured image: AS5488 Quality Levels in Markings. Image/NULCA

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