This article is in response to my first article on this, entitled “Are Utility Locators First Responders?“. In the comments Seth C. Slifer, CSP noted that the Dept. of Homeland has a very specific definition of a first responder and upon further investigation they also have a definition for an emergency response providers. I probably conflated the two in my last article but below you can find how distinct they are.

The term first responder is defined in U.S. Homeland Security Presidential Directive, HSPD-8 and reads:

The term "first responder" refers to those individuals who in the early stages of an incident are responsible for the protection and preservation of life, property, evidence, and the environment, including emergency response providers as defined in section 2 of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 (6 U.S.C. § 101), as well as emergency management, public health, clinical care, public works, and other skilled support personnel (such as equipment operators) that provide immediate support services during prevention, response, and recovery operations.

Emergency response providers are defined by 6 U.S.C. § 101 as follows:

(6) The term "emergency response providers" includes Federal, State, and local governmental and nongovernmental emergency public safety, fire, law enforcement, public safety telecommunicators/dispatcher, emergency response, emergency medical services providers (including hospital emergency facilities), and related personnel, agencies, and authorities.

I think locators would maybe fall under emergency response providers but that may all be semantics. What I’m really talking about is respect. Utility locators play a critical role in ensuring public safety by identifying and marking underground utilities to prevent potentially catastrophic damage. Despite their essential function, they are not recognized as first or emergency responders. This article explores the reasons behind this lack of recognition, the importance of addressing this gap, and the steps needed to elevate utility locators to a higher status.

Current Disqualifications

Lack of Formal Recognition and Definition

The primary reason utility locators are not considered first responders is the absence of formal recognition. Governmental and regulatory bodies typically define first responders as professionals trained and designated to handle a wide range of emergency situations, including firefighters, police officers, and EMS personnel. Utility locators, while critical to public safety, do not currently fit this traditional definition. I do think they fit the definition of Emergency Response Providers, when they are working in response to a utility damage or in extreme conditions like after a hurricane.

Specialized Focus

Utility locators have a specialized role focused on identifying and marking underground utilities. Although this is vital for preventing damage and ensuring safety, it is a more narrowly focused responsibility compared to the broader emergency duties of traditional first responders. Firefighters, for instance, are trained to handle medical emergencies, fires, hazardous materials, and rescue operations, while utility locators' expertise is primarily preventive. So maybe there needs to be a distinguisher between locators working in response to a damage versus regular preventative work.

Training and Certification

First responders undergo extensive, standardized training covering a spectrum of emergency situations, including medical care, hazardous materials handling, fire suppression, and rescue operations. Utility locators receive specialized training in their field but do not undergo the same comprehensive emergency response training. This difference in training breadth and depth contributes to their exclusion from the first responder category.

Incident Command Integration

During emergencies, first responders operate within the Incident Command System (ICS), which ensures coordinated and efficient response efforts. Utility locators generally do not receive training in ICS protocols, which is crucial for seamless integration with other emergency services. This lack of ICS training limits their ability to participate fully in broader emergency response efforts.

Perception and Awareness

There is a general lack of public and institutional awareness regarding the critical role utility locators play in preventing disasters. Their work is often seen as preventive rather than reactive, leading to the perception that their contributions do not qualify them as first responders. This undervaluation of their role is a significant barrier to their formal recognition.

Addressing the Disqualifications

Formal Recognition and Policy Changes

To address this gap, it is essential to advocate for changes in legislation and policy that formally recognize utility locators as first responders. This could involve lobbying for amendments to existing laws and regulations to include utility locators in the definition of first responders. Formal recognition would validate the importance of their work and ensure they receive the support and resources needed to perform their duties effectively.

Expanded Training Programs

Developing and implementing comprehensive training programs for utility locators is crucial. These programs should cover emergency response protocols, including medical first aid, hazardous materials handling, fire safety, and rescue operations. Certification programs can validate this expanded training, ensuring that utility locators are prepared for a wider range of emergency situations and enhancing their credibility as first responders.

Integration into Emergency Response Systems

Training utility locators in the Incident Command System (ICS) and other emergency response protocols is vital for their effective integration into broader response efforts. This training would enable utility locators to coordinate seamlessly with traditional first responders during emergencies, enhancing overall response efficiency and effectiveness. Maybe we could build some ICS integration into ticket management systems like Utilocate for scenarios like this.

Public Awareness Campaigns

Raising public awareness about the critical role of utility locators is essential. Public awareness campaigns can highlight the importance of their work in preventing disasters and ensuring public safety. Educating the public and policymakers about the value of utility locators can help shift perceptions and build support for their inclusion as first responders.

Equipping for Emergencies

Ensuring utility locators are equipped with the necessary tools and equipment to respond effectively in emergency situations is also crucial. Advanced communication devices, personal protective equipment, and emergency response kits can enhance their operational capabilities. Properly equipped utility locators will be better prepared to handle emergencies, further justifying their recognition as first responders.


Recognizing the critical role that utility locators play in ensuring public safety, it is clear they are well-suited for the responsibilities of first responders. To meet this challenge effectively, we must equip them adequately. Comprehensive training programs should instill vital skills and situational awareness, while state-of-the-art equipment enhances their operational capabilities. Formal recognition through certifications validates their expertise and facilitates seamless collaboration with other response agencies. By providing utility locators with the necessary tools, training, and recognition, we empower them to fulfill their duties effectively as first responders.

The question should not be "Why aren't utility locators first responders?" but rather, "How can we ensure that utility locators are recognized and supported as the essential first responders they truly are?"

Share this Post