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What Is 811 and Why Is It Important to Call Before You Dig?

So what is National 811 Day and why is it important?

Once a year, utilities and excavators come together to promote safe digging on August 11th. Originally initiated by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), each year 811 Day grows to reach more and more people encouraging them to call before you dig.

History of 811

In the late ’60s, there was a major accident on the west coast that caused major gas leakages, fires, and power outages. The cause of the accident was due to improper digging practices. This incident spawned a movement for notifying utility owners and operators before excavation projects started. This meant that before ground could be broken, an excavator needed to call each utility company in the area for markings.

Throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s, the individual states created dedicated toll-free numbers which their residents and excavators could use to help consolidate the number of calls needing to be made. At first dialing, the number would help the call notify one or two utilities who opted to become members of each call center. This first step paved the way for more utilities with underground facilities to become members.

At the same time that more utilities became members of their state one call centers, the laws started to reflect the value of protecting critical infrastructure and the lives of those on the job site. By the end of the 1990s, damage prevention became a staple of the excavation process with every state in the U.S. having a dig law and a way to call811. As time progressed, many states have updated their laws to include membership with the one call center mandatory.

In 2005, 811 became the officially nationally recognized abbreviated number and was assigned by the FCC (United States Communications Commission) which would allow all homeowners and excavators to directly dial the one call center in their area quickly and efficiently.

Importance of Contacting 811

Every 6 minutes, an underground facility is damaged by someone digging. In 2020 alone, 385,381 damages were reported to the Common Ground Alliance. 31.8% of those damages were due to not contacting 811 to get the facilities marked. Doing the calculations, that is 122,551 times that utility services were interrupted, 122,551 times the digger had to pay for repair costs, 122,551 times someone could have been hurt or killed, and it all could have been easily avoided by contacting 811.

With the advancement of technology, submitting a request for utility markings is becoming easier, and most 811 centers offer multiple ways to make the locate request. You can call or submit the ticket online. As a homeowner, I have done both. By picking up the phone to dial 811, you will speak with a representative who can help you and answer questions you may have about the process. If you don’t want to talk with someone or if you are pressed for time, online entry is available.

No matter what option you choose, it is extremely important to protect yourself, your property, and your community.

You called, now what?

After your request has been submitted, it is important to wait for the appropriate time for the utility locators to mark their underground lines. Depending on the state you are located in, this could be 2 or 3 business days. In many states, the point in time by which the facilities should be marked is called the “Proper Notice”. You can use the following link to review the laws in your state.

Between the submission of the one call ticket and the proper notice, each utility will respond by sending out a locator to mark their public utilities within the requested dig site. These markings will be color coded by the facility type and will consist of one or any combination of paint, chalk, flags, stakes, brushes, or offsets.

It is important to note what constitutes public utilities. This is the part of the facility lines owned and maintained by the utility up to the meter or point of sale. Anything beyond the meter or from one building to another is considered a private line. These lines are not the responsibility of the utility company and therefore would need to be located by a private locator. Private utilities also include wells, septic systems, invisible dog fences, and most irrigation systems.

Once the proper notice arrives, use your ticket to confirm all of the utilities on the ticket have responded. Most states have a portal for you to view all of the responses in one location. Use this information along with a visual inspection of the dig site before the first grain of dirt is moved. Should there be any issues, you will want to contact your call center.

After verifying that all of the utilities have responded and the markings are present, it is time to begin your project. However, you want to make sure that you respect the markings by digging around them and not on them. Most states have rules regarding the tolerance zones around the markings. Should the digging need to occur within the tolerance zone, there are ways to do so safely.

There are two other things to keep in mind. Locate tickets are only valid for a certain amount of time and it varies from state to state. If your work will not be completed by the expiration date, it is important to renew your ticket. The other thing is the visibility of the markings. Should the markings become weathered, faint, or disturbed by the excavation process, stop digging and request a remarking of the lines.

One day a year is not enough.

It is great that each year we take the time to promote 811, but it's important to remember contacting 811 is not just for August 11th. We have to remember that 811 is available every day, anytime you want to disturb the surface of the ground. Whether you are removing the sod to install pavers, removing a stump, planting a tree or garden, or building an addition, take the time to call 811.

The utilities are happy to mark their lines to protect the community and you. This is why they are members of your one call center and include information about contacting 811 on your utility bills. It is why 811 is listed on utility boxes, pedestals, marker posts, transformers, etc.

Are you an old hand at 811? Spread the word.

If you are someone who has seen and used 811 numerous times over the years you may be asking yourself why you are reading this. Here is a better question to ask yourself: What am I doing to help educate others in my community about 811?

There are a number of ways to get involved. The easiest way is during conversations with friends and family. Anytime someone discusses an upcoming project, you can slip a reminder to contact 811 prior to starting. If they don’t know what 811 is, you have an opportunity to engage them in more detail.

A second way to promote safe digging is to ensure any excavators, contractors, or those who will be doing work on your property are educated about 811. Make sure that all parties are in agreement on who will be responsible for making the locate request.

To make a bigger impact in your area, you can always reach out to 811 in your state and the Common Ground Alliance. They will be able to provide more resources, information, and outreach opportunities to help reach others.

Teamwork for Safety

Only if we all work together can we prevent damage and save lives. So next time you think about planting a tree for Arbor Day, landscaping as a Mother’s Day present, redoing the patio for Father's Day, installing stakes to hold holiday yard decorations -- whether it's your first request or your thousandth: take the time to plan. More importantly, take time to contact 811.

BOSS Solutions is a provider of industry-leading provider of ticket management software for the damage prevention industry. BOSS811 is a cloud-based One Call ticket management software for municipalities, utilities, and locator companies managing excavation requests.

It comes with an award-winning UI and easy navigation. With facility map integration, it provides a visual component for effective management and tracking of dig requests. The powerful ticket screening capability makes it easy to close tickets automatically or alert appropriate locators.

BOSS Solutions is a proud partner in damage prevention.

About the Author:

Kristin Reed is a Senior Support Engineer with BOSS Solutions. Kristin has been part of the damage prevention industry since 2010. She is committed to helping utilities and locators protect their facilities and keeping excavators safe at the dig site.


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