Unseen Dangers: A look at Hazards You May Be Overlooking

Pipelines and Schools in Texas

Texas surpasses the Nation in the amount of pipelines and has the second largest population. In addition to many schools that are already (and often unknowing) co-existing with neighboring pipelines, our vast pipeline system is continually growing and so are our schools. Texas is a leader in population growth according to the United States (U.S.) Census Bureau3. Between July 1st of 2014 and July 1st of 2015, Texas gained 400,000 new residents. Already ranking second in the number of elementary schools4, increased population in Texas often means an amplified need for school expansions and new school construction to accommodate the growth3.

Texas has the largest pipeline infrastructure in the nation, with more than 439,771 miles of pipeline representing about 1/6 of the total pipeline mileage of the entire United States.2

Not only do hundreds of Texas schools have a pipeline within 1,000 feet of their property, but in oil and gas producing parts of the state, some schools are within the impact radius of multiple pipelines.

What School Officials Should Know About Nearby Pipelines

A good place to start is taking another look around schools for unseen hazards before concluding school safety assessments. This can be done by looking for pipeline markers near school grounds and obtaining critical information off of the markers which includes the pipeline company name, emergency number and product being transported.

School officials can also utilize online mapping tools like the National Pipeline Mapping System and the Texas Railroad Commission GIS Viewer to see aerial maps that show some types of nearby pipelines. Once it is determined that there is a pipeline nearby and who operates it, school officials can continue their research by searching the company’s website for additional safety information or by contacting that company’s public awareness department. Details about the pipeline that school officials need to know for emergency planning are:

  • The pipeline company name
  • The pipeline emergency (and non-emergency) numbers
  • The product that is being transported in the pipeline and hazards associated with the product
  • Indications of a pipeline leak – depending on what type of product is being transported (what the product leak would look, sound and smell like)
  • The approximate location of the pipeline
  • The recommended evacuation distance based on the impact radius of the pipeline

Access the School Pipeline Safety Toolkit to view School Pipeline Safety Brochure and download the Safety Plan Checklist.

Preparing Your School

Knowing what pipelines are nearby is important, but taking it a step further to develop a pipeline specific emergency plan is critical. Using the information you have gathered in advance, collaborate with others including representatives from your local pipeline companies, first responder agencies and your fellow school administrators and safety teams. In addition, educate staff, including bus drivers, in advance as you do with other types of emergencies.

Watch the School Pipeline Safety Video to learn more about being prepared for a pipeline emergency at your school. You can also share the video with others for emergency planning purposes or incorporate it at your next emergency planning meeting.

Preventing a Pipeline Emergency

Each year underground pipeline and utility damages are submitted to the Common Ground Alliance. These damage reports are then analyzed and published in what is known as the DIRT Report (Damage Information Reporting Tool). The latest statistics reveal that Texas exceeds all other states in damages, many times over, with more than 45,000 damages in 2015.1

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This dramatic amount of damages, compared to other states, can be correlated to situational factors in Texas which among other things include the size of our state, the amount of pipelines and the large and ever-increasing population that results in increased housing and road construction elevating excavation and digging activity.

(Click image to enlarge.)

Any digging activity, large or small, performed by a professional contractor or simply a homeowner, poses a risk to underground pipelines and utilities and in turn could create a school emergency. That is why extensive effort is put forth by the pipeline and utility industry to educate and enforce the use of 811 prior to digging. Submitting a location request is as easy as going online or calling 8-1-1 and telling them your digging plans. The call is free and in Texas it is the law.

Excavation/digging activity remains to be the leading cause of pipeline damage in the United States.5

School officials can take proactive steps to help protect nearby pipelines from damage and potentially prevent a pipeline emergency at their school. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Call 811 prior to any digging activity on school grounds. This includes having volunteer’s plant trees or initiating campus expansions. Or, if you hire a contractor to do the work you should require them to make the call for themselves before proceeding.
  • Be vigilant of any risky digging that may be going on around your school grounds by others. If you see excavation but do not see any indications that lines have been located using colored flags or paint, intervene or call 811, a pipeline company or law enforcement.
  • Educate others about the importance of using 811. Oftentimes students that attend your school also live nearby and their homes could be near the same pipelines that run by your school. If their parents are aware of pipeline safety precautions to take when installing a fence or building a deck it could help make your school safer.

Visit the School Pipeline Safety Toolkit for a printable 811 flyer that you can distribute to students or your community.

Conclusion

School pipeline safety and awareness is becoming more critical than ever in Texas due to the unique dynamics of the state. High consequence areas, such as schools should ensure that underground pipelines have been considered before finalizing emergency assessments and plans. In addition to conducting the necessary research using visual markers and online mapping tools, School Officials are encouraged to be proactive and reach out to local pipeline operators for additional safety information and to form two-way communications that foster ongoing relationships.

To promote student safety, School Officials can increase vigilance of any risks posed to nearby pipelines and utilities surrounding their school grounds. This can be done by watching for risky excavation activity or environmental factors such as severe weather conditions like flooding and earthquakes that may be exposing or adversely affecting pipelines and reporting it before it turns into an emergency situation.

Once steps are taken to ensure that all nearby underground hazards have been addressed, update the information annually as an effort to keep records as up-to-date as possible. Pipeline companies are known for buying, selling and merging assets frequently so ownership data including emergency numbers can change from year to year. In addition, new pipelines are being constructed each day in our state.

For questions, assistance or materials about this topic please contact the Texas School Safety Center (TxSSC) at (877) 304 – 2727 or submit a request for assistance through the TxSSC Contact Us Link. You can also contact our School Pipeline Safety Partnership which offers free support to schools by emailing Info@SchoolPipelineSafety.org or calling Toll Free 866-401-2800.

References

1 Damage Information Reporting Tool. (2015). DIRT Report Interactive Analysis. Retrieved May, 2017, from http://commongroundalliance.com/dirt-2015-interactive-report.

2 Texas Railroad Commission. (2017). Pipeline Safety. Retrieved May, 2017, from http://www.rrc.state.tx.us/pipeline-safety/.

3 United States Census Bureau. (2016). Four Texas Metro Areas Collectively Add More Than 400,000 People in the Last Year, Census Bureau Reports. Retrieved May, 2017, from https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2016/cb16-43.html.

4 United States Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD). (2004-05). Public Elementary/Secondary School Universe Survey, Version 1a. Retrieved May, 2017, from https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2007/overview04/tables/table_2.asp.

5 United States Department of Transportation. (2012). Department of Transportation Announces Over $1.5 million in State Pipeline Safety Grants. Retrieved May, 2017, from https://www.phmsa.dot.gov/staticfiles/PHMSA/DownloadableFiles/Files/Press%20Release%20Files/phmsa2212.pdf.