Man Vs Nature Which Is Your Cables Worst Enemy?

Man Vs Nature Which Is Your Cables Worst Enemy?

A struggle as old as time itself, the battle of Man vs Nature has taken its toll on both sides, and somewhere in the long list of casualties sits your cable. The path to damage prevention begins first with understanding the biggest causes of damage to your outside plant. From here, we can start to figure out how to prevent these causes before they happen, instead of focusing our efforts on repairing the damage after the fact. So which is your cable’s worst enemy, Man or Nature? Let’s take a look at some of the worst offenders from both sides.


Improper Locating/Marking Techniques


A locate is only as good as the locator themselves. Whether it’s a poorly marked locate, a weak locate signal, or a lack or training on the part of the locator, improper locating and marking techniques can have a devastating impact on your outside plant.

Improper Excavation Techniques


An accurate, well-marked locate means nothing if poor excavation techniques are used around the locate site. Your locate could be marked by a gallon of orange field paint, a giant 5’ flag and enough flashing lights to put your average police cruiser to shame, it doesn’t matter if the proper safety guidelines and standard practices are being ignored.

No Locate Request Made


Well, this one is pretty simple… Without a locate request, there is no locate, and without a locate, you’re rolling the dice on a cable hit at the excavation site.




Modern-day fibers benefit from advanced coatings that protect them from water, except in the splice enclosures where the tips of the fiber strands are stripped of their coatings so the splices can be fused without contaminants. Today, most water damage happens in splice enclosures that have failed to keep water away from the fiber.



Since they have a life-long drive to gnaw, rodents are often responsible for extensive damage to fiber optic cable. Even metal armored cable can get cut in two by these furry critters!

Lightning or Incidental Voltage


When lightning strikes the ground, it will search for the best conductor available, even if it’s underground. If that happens to be the armor or trace-wire of your fiber cable, then damage to the cable sheath and even the fiber itself is very likely.

Ice Crush


In colder climates, water that enters a splice enclosure can freeze, crushing the fiber strands and leaving you with a costly network outage. When ice crush occurs, an emergency network repair is needed to avoid additional damage and downtime. Given the harsh conditions, however, access to the splice enclosure is often very hard to reach. In such scenarios, it is not uncommon to find the handhole buried under a snowbank, with the lid frozen shut, and full of water that has completely frozen solid.

And the Winner Is?

Man, and it’s not even close.

According to a study by the CGA on causes of outside plant damage, improper locating and marking techniques results in 17% of all reported damage, no locate request results in 26%, and improper excavation techniques results in a whopping 50%. All other causes, including but not limited to nature-related causes, made up for 7% of all reported damage.

How Do We Prevent It?

There’s good news and bad news with these findings.

First the bad: we’re nowhere near as safe as we thought we were when it comes to working with and around our outside plant.

Now for the good: this problem is easily fixable. How?

  1. Ensure that you have a good Call Before You Dig program in place
    Promote the program to your staff and external stakeholders using signage, advertising, etc.
    Make sure the program is efficient. Respond to tickets quickly and get out to requests in a timely manner.
    Ensure your program is documented. Log all requests and locates. A good e-ticketing system can help with this, while also help to make your program more efficient.

  2. Utilize best excavation practices
    Maintain all clearance specifications.
    Maintain locating marks.
    Support exposed facilities.
    Use hand tools when appropriate.

  3. Improve Locatability
    Ensuring that your locates are done, reliable, and accurately marked is possibly the greatest strategy to combat the risk cable dig-ups and improve network longevity. So what are the keys to good network locatability?
    Choose a quality conductor. Investing in armoured cable upfront will both improve your locates and protect your cable down the road.
    Avoid ground faults by grounding everywhere! While important, grounding everywhere does limit the distance your locate signal can travel. Implementing Intelligent Grounding equipment can help with this. Intelligent Grounding keeps your plant grounded, while allowing your locate signal to pass through and avoid ground.
    Make sure your plant is highly accessible. Doing so will make your locates and ongoing maintenance much easier!