One of the leading causes of disruption to underground utilities is damage caused by digging. Each year, thousands of hits to buried utility lines occur, resulting in serious legal and financial consequences, personal injuries and sometimes death. In the pipeline industry alone, statistics for the past 20 years include more than $1.7 billion worth of property damage, 1,906 injuries and 421 deaths attributed to excavation work near pipelines, according to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).

On March 10, 2005, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved the use of “811” as a national “call before you dig” telephone number to interface with the 62 one-call centers across the United States. The Common Ground Alliance (CGA), a 1,200-member industry group that promotes the safety of underground facilities including gas, pipelines, power and telecommunications, was tasked with developing a national campaign to promote awareness of 811.

For the first time, through the establishment of 811, all stakeholders can publicize the same easy-to-remember number. When someone dials 811, they will automatically be connected to the one-call center for their area.

National implementation started in April, and the national 811 launch event was on May 1 in front of the Capitol building on the National Mall.

How It Works

The 811 campagn targets diggers — professional excavators and do-it-yourself homeowners. A recent national survey revealed that roughly half of Americans are “active diggers,” who have done (or are planning to do) some type of digging project at home, yet only one-third have called or will call to get their utility lines marked.

The intent of the National 811 Awareness campaign is to improve damage and injury statistics and help ensure the reliability of the nation’s underground infrastructure. 811 is intended to become the first step in any excavation process. It is hoped that 811 will assist in the goal to call in every dig, every time.

CGA has been spearheading the 811 effort since the beginning, along with member organizations and national launch partners that conduct outreach to increase awareness of the new 811 number, demonstrate its relevance and create positive behavioral change among those most likely to dig.

One easy phone call to 811 starts the process to get your underground utility lines marked for free. When you call 811 from anywhere in the United States, your call will be routed to your local one-call center. Local one-call center operators will ask you for the location of your digging job and route your call to affected utility companies.

Your utility companies will then send a professional locator to your location to mark your lines within a few days. Once your underground lines have been marked, you will know the approximate location of your utility lines and can dig safely, because knowing what’s below protects you and your family.

Perhaps the audience who will benefit the most from 811 will be the do-it-yourself (DIY) homeowner, the property owner who in the past has neglected to call before they dig. Homeowners often make risky assumptions about whether or not they should get their utility lines marked, but every digging job requires a call — even small projects like planting trees and shrubs. The depth of utility lines varies and there may be multiple utility lines in a common area.

Digging without calling can disrupt service to an entire neighborhood, harm you and those around you and potentially result in fines and repair costs. Calling 811 before every digging job gets your underground utility lines marked for free and helps prevent undesired consequences. Three-digit dialing should improve current statistics that indicate less than 50 percent of homeowners call before digging. With some 750,000 damages to underground infrastructure occurring each year, it is hoped the 811 number will help in reducing this number.

811 will not replace your local one-call number. The one-call process will remain the same and continue to notify your local affected utility companies, who will continue to mark your underground lines for free. With more than 62 local one- call numbers across the country, 811 eliminates the confusion of multiple “call before you dig” numbers by providing one national number you can call to get your lines marked.

Trenchless Contractors React

Trenchless Technology spoke with contractors about the 811 number, and they believe the 811 number will make it easier for contractors to get in touch with the local one-call centers. Grady Bell with Laney Directional Drilling of Humble, Texas, says it is important to get the word out to contractors about the availability of 811, especially those homeowners doing DIY projects. “It’s a good system. I’ve been getting the word out to our [crews] on my own about 811,” he said. “811 is the easiest way to get to the one-call center. There’s no excuse for not knowing the number.”

Miller Pipeline Corp. in Indianapolis, handles the gamut of both trenchless work and open cut utility construction. Miller crews are trained to know that they are required to call before they dig on any project. Mark Wallbom, Miller Pipeline senior vice president, says the 811 campaign is an excellent reinforcement tool to drive home the importance of locating underground utilities before digging.

“Anything that promotes calling before you dig, I’m for,” Wallbom said. “With all the past emphasis on one-call and now the 811 campaign, it is really inexcusable and unexplainable how people in our business say they didn’t know to call for locates. Part of being a utility contractor is to know the law and our obligation to locate utilities before digging is commenced.”

Like Bell, Wallbom believes that the homeowners and rental market are the prime targets for the 811 campaign as they may not be aware of the need to call before they start a digging project.

Henkels & McCoy is a contracting company with crews all around the United States and are involved with directional drilling, auger boring, vacuum excavating, etc. Wesley Lee is area manager for South Central operations, which includes northern Texas, northern Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas and New Mexico. He likes the idea of having a national three-digit number to call, especially when you have projects in multiple states. Having an 811 number simplifies things, he said.

Lee added that the problem he runs into is that in Texas, for instance, it’s not required that all utilities are hooked into the one-call system, forcing contractors to call other outlets to find underground utilities.

National Implementation & Promotion

The CGA hired nationally renowned advertising agency Fleishman Hillard to publicly launch the 811 National Awareness Campaign. The company conducted four phases of research in order to craft the public campaign messages and visuals. Professional excavators and CGA members Fleishman Hillard developed a baseline of current practices and awareness using findings from research done with the public. These findings helped to set the tone and direction to develop a program that motivates the public to call before digging.

Today, the 811 campaign includes media outreach and campaign launch events. Free electronic and print components are available to all stakeholders online at www.call811.com. Included in these materials are templates for billboards, bill-stuffers, decals, door hangers and more. The campaign was introduced at the CGA Excavation Safety Conference and Expo in Orlando, held on March 7. Some 500 attendees were on hand at the CGA breakfast, which included the project’s unveiling.

Those in attendance got to view the 60-second PSA, which will be available for all to download at www.call811.com. A variety of other downloads and 811-related information is available on the Web site. An online toolkit is also available to assist stakeholders in producing launching events and media material, including the availability of broadcast public service announcements for television and radio.

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