Every April, as the ground thaws and digging season begins in earnest in many parts of the country, the Common Ground Alliance (CGA) and its 1,700 members celebrate National Safe Digging Month in the hope of educating more professionals and homeowners about the importance of having the approximate location of buried utilities marked before digging.
While we hope that the one-call process isn’t new to those who excavate for a living, we do know from our annual Damage Information Reporting Tool (DIRT) Report that more than 45 percent of national damages to buried infrastructure attributed to a failure to call 811 come from contractors and developers – a larger percentage than for any other single stakeholder group measured.
We also know from national research conducted this spring that 44 percent of U.S. homeowners who plan to do DIY projects involving digging this year will not call 811 before breaking ground on projects like planting trees and shrubs, installing fences and mailboxes, or building patios and decks.
The Good News
With more than 20 million miles of buried infrastructure in the U.S. and an underground utility line being struck every 100 seconds, the bottom line is that both professionals and homeowners still very much need to be reminded how critical the 811 process is – and that’s why we work so diligently to help our members spread the word about the importance of the one-call process each April during National Safe Digging Month.
Here’s the good news: Calling 811 before digging reduces the chance of damaging a buried utility to less than 1 percent, according to our most recent DIRT Report. This is the message we shout from every rooftop throughout the year, but especially in April. You may know that 811 is celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2017, and in its first decade of existence, awareness of the national call before you dig number has doubled and damages to buried infrastructure have decreased significantly.
As CGA and its members launch the next decade of damage prevention, National Safe Digging Month remains a core outreach campaign. Using CGA’s 2017 Communications Plan templates and campaign overviews, damage prevention advocates will be earning local media, securing gubernatorial and local proclamations of April as Safe Digging Month, hosting or participating in community events, communicating with internal stakeholders about the importance of calling 811 before digging and reminding their customers through bill inserts and social media that safe digging is always a priority.
One of the biggest splashes that 811 is making this April is up above, not down below. The 811 Hot Air Balloon launches in California on April 1 and will be traveling across the country this digging season to remind everyone about the importance of calling 811 before breaking ground, finally landing on the east coast on 8/11 Day (Aug. 11 on the calendar).
Starting with the Oakland A’s game the morning of April 1 and then traveling to the Sacramento Republic game that same afternoon, followed by an all-weekend appearance at the Grand Prix of Long Beach, the 811 Hot Air Balloon will prove that safety’s in the air this April by launching NSDM at three major sporting events.
The consequences of striking a buried utility range from financial impacts – downtime incurred when excavation work is paused, the downtime to businesses relying on communication service, repairs to the damaged infrastructure and possible fines – to the very human, including serious injury or death. No project, regardless of scope, benefits or urgent necessity, is worth such consequences.
At CGA, our members believe that damage prevention is a shared responsibility, and we invite everyone who digs to share that responsibility along with us. We hope that you’ll join us in celebrating April as National Safe Digging Month this year, whether you participate as a company, a department or just an individual. Reminding your peers, friends and family members to always call 811 before digging could save a life.
Khrysanne Kerr is the vice president of communications
at the Common Ground Alliance, the association dedicated to protecting underground infrastructure and those who dig near it.