Sarah Magruder Lyle CGA

In Her Own Words: Q&A With CGA President Sarah Magruder Lyle

Sarah Magruder Lyle CGA

The Common Ground Alliance (CGA) has a new president and leader: Sarah Magruder Lyle, succeeding the retired Bob Kipp. In honor of 811 Day — Aug. 11 — we wanted to introduce her to our readers and let her share her vision for CGA, as well as perspective on the industry.

1. Tell our readers a little about your background and how you came to CGA?

I have had the opportunity to work on a variety of interesting energy issues from the legal, political, and policy perspectives. I knew early on in my career that I wanted to help others understand the critical role energy plays in our lives, whether it be how it is produced, processed, delivered or used. We often take our access to fuel, power, water, internet and other utilities for granted, and it is important that policymakers and consumers understand the hard work energy companies and their committed employees do to ensure the lights come on when we flip the switch, and that our homes stay cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

Over the years, I have been fortunate to work with great people at the federal, state and local levels to educate communities, policy makers and stakeholders about the vital role energy plays in our everyday lives. From a policy perspective, I have also seen our nation’s energy policy significantly evolve over the past decade, which has truly been fascinating. We went from a country dependent on others to keep our economic wheels turning to a global energy super power.

Regardless of what sector I have represented — upstream, downstream or midstream — safety has always been a priority. Thus, when the opportunity to lead the Common Ground Alliance (CGA) arose, I was thrilled! I have worked at several trade associations, but there is no question CGA is unique: stakeholders across 16 industries with one common goal of eliminating excavation-related damages. Our stakeholders’ commitment to CGA’s founding philosophy of shared responsibility, saving lives and preventing damage to underground infrastructure by promoting effective damage prevention practices is amazing.

2. Discuss the growth of the Call 811 movement over the last 10 years.

Our members’ commitment to our mission became very clear at the first meeting I attended in January. In fall 2016, CGA issued an 811 video challenge to recognize the 10-year anniversary of 811, the number designated by the Federal Communications Commission to connect professionals and homeowners who plan to dig with their local one call center.

We reviewed the submissions, and the impact those videos had on me — and those who ultimately viewed them — was significant. Over the last 10 years, damages have decreased approximately 50 percent, a testament to the work of our stakeholders and staff. There is no question that our members’ commitment to safety has been pivotal in driving down damages to underground infrastructure. But we still have work to do — every six minutes an underground utility line is damaged because someone decided to dig without first calling 811.

Sarah Magruder Lyle CGA President3. What are your goals and objectives as the new CGA president?

There is no question our main goal is to save lives and prevent damage to underground infrastructure by promoting effective damage prevention practices. CGA’s work over the past decade has resulted in a significant reduction in damages.

I want to build on these accomplishments and help our organization focus on what the future of damage prevention looks like. In an ever-changing environment, we want to be sure we are able to adjust our message, as well as our education and outreach efforts to increase awareness about the importance of ensuring the nearly 20 million miles of buried pipes and cables that we rely on every day, and the people that are working, living and playing near them are protected.

4. Talk about the DIRT Report. What has been its impact?

DIRT — the Damage Information Reporting Tool — has been a tremendous asset to our members and those who are focused on underground infrastructure damage prevention. The program collects critical information, analyzing the data and producing targeted recommendations to damage prevention stakeholders about how to best protect buried facilities.

RELATED: CGA Releases 2015 DIRT Report

DIRT is now in its 12th year, and the data collected informs nearly every aspect of CGA’s operations and industry recommendations. The DIRT Report is typically released every August with more granular information and user-tools enhancing the already meaningful data. You can learn more about DIRT data by visiting

5. What do you see as CGA’s greatest challenges going forward?

One of the biggest challenges to successfully tackling an issue is to get everyone around the same table, and CGA has successfully accomplished that. Now, our challenge will be to ensure we are nimble, able to refine our efforts, and that we are thinking about how we will impact the future of damage prevention.

6. What legislative issues are out there that are a concern to CGA?

CGA’s Stakeholder Advocacy Committee provides tools and guidance that local stakeholders need to educate state and federal policymakers about the Best Practices, the 811 process and key statistics from the DIRT Report. The committee also creates case studies by interviewing stakeholders who have recently participated in the process to update their state’s one call law. In the coming months, the committee plans to develop a case study that focuses on a state that is undergoing modification of its enforcement laws.

7. The Gold Shovel Standard (GSS) is getting a lot of attention. What is CGA’s position on this? What are your thoughts in general about GSS?

Damage prevention, like many other challenges industries face, is a multi-faceted issue. The Common Ground Alliance was founded to promote effective damage prevention practices and educate stakeholders on the importance of calling 811 before you dig. The Gold Shovel Standard’s mission is to help industry reduce damages by measuring damage prevention performance. We have members who are participating in GSS and are providing input into the process.

CGA Call 811 Hot Air Balloon8. What has been the impact CGA (and 811) has had on the environment and safety (such as cross bores)?

Bringing all stakeholders together to discuss and agree on the most impactful ways to reduce excavation-related damages continues to be CGA’s core achievement and guiding principal. Our Best Practices Guide is an excellent example of CGA’s consensus model at work. The document includes more than 130 practices that cover all phases of the 811 process, agreed to by 16 stakeholder groups.

RELATED: For the Common Good: Spreading the Safe Digging Message Across Canada

The Best Practices Committee, charged with the overseeing the Best Practices guide and identification of any new practices, currently has seven active task teams reviewing potential modifications. One of these teams is currently gathering information to identify practices that can reduce risks associated with cross bores. All CGA members and stakeholders are encouraged to review the Best Practices and submit new practice proposals using our online form.

9. What has surprised you about this industry during your short time as CGA president?

CGA isn’t just one industry — we are many, many industries, and often different sectors within an industry. What initially struck me as unique about the Common Ground Alliance continues to surprise me today — that so many companies across so many industries can agree on a common goal and work together toward that common goal.

10. In your view, what has been the impact thus far that the our new Administration has had on your industry?

From a business perspective, the possibility of the federal government providing much needed funding for infrastructure projects has certainly been a positive. And that possibility of increased construction means that we will have to be sure we are educating those who will be part of this effort. It will be an opportunity to reach out to more stakeholders, homeowners, and communities about the importance of calling 811 before you dig.

11. Final thoughts on the work CGA does.

The Common Ground Alliance is a member-driven association and our members are the heartbeat of our national damage prevention effort. I would encourage those not involved in CGA to visit to learn how to get involved.

Additionally, I would like to recognize and thank the many active CGA members that dedicate their time and resources in the form of sponsorship, committee participation and promotion of our safety resources. Damage prevention is a shared responsibility and I look forward to what we can accomplish in the next decade.
Sharon M. Bueno is managing editor of Trenchless Technology.
// ** Advertisement ** //