CONNECTING THE DOTS

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Underground infrastructure supports the livelihood of the community. When key systems are interrupted or damaged, they can cause harm as well as unnecessary expenses. Many do not realize that one misplaced shovel, trencher or backhoe bucket stands between a cold winter day that is made more comfortable with heat and warm food and that of everyone in a community losing natural gas or electric power. More concerning is that excavation missteps can cause the release of natural gas or hazardous liquids that results in harm to people or the environment.

Damage to the infrastructure that provides us with critical services such as energy and utilities is preventable. “Know What’s Below… Call 811 Before You Dig” serves as a reminder to get underground pipelines and utilities marked prior to excavation.

Underground facility operators have been working to ensure that anyone digging, excavating or moving earth uses their state’s one call notification center to locate facilities in the vicinity of the activity. The simple, and usually free call, initiates a process by which pipeline operators and other underground facility owners are notified about the projects. Appropriate steps are then taken to mark the location of pipelines and other underground facilities in the area.

The issue is of such importance Congress passed legislation that requires minimum standards to be met and any exemptions from the one call process to be justified.

Despite efforts to educate stakeholders as to the importance of the one call process, some stakeholders still do not want to participate in the process, or wait the required time to allow for the underground facilities to be properly located and marked at no cost to the excavator. Common Ground Alliance (CGA) studies indicate that nearly 50 percent of excavators fail to make a one call prior to digging.

Many governments own, operate or maintain public facilities that are buried; yet the facilities are not entered into the one call system. Many laws exempt publicly owned utilities from the requirement to make the one call or register with the qualified one call center. If an entity chooses not to register, there is no way to know whether there are underground pipes, cables or wires buried in the areas for excavation. Nor will the governmental agencies receive notices of excavation around their facilities. This poses an unnecessary risk to the people working and living near these facilities. Government entities have a direct interest in protecting the safety of personnel and the community at large as well as the soundness of underground systems – whether water, sewer or natural gas.

Make sure that your organization is using your state’s one call registry and process. While existing lines may be difficult to add to the system due to the lack of location information, new and future assets should be included in the registry. Any cost to participate will be offset by preventing damage, and saving a life or preventing injury to those working and living around pipelines.

WHAT CAN YOU DO TO HELP?

  • Encourage other operators of publicly owned underground facilities to register with the local one call center, regardless of any exemptions in local or state law.
  • Require that anyone incentive to call. planning to dig must dial 811 before beginning activity. After a dig ticket is created, underground operators will be notified of projects in the area.
  • Provide a mechanism to fine or penalize those who fail to call before they dig. This is the most effective way of reinforcing the importance of calling before you dig. Damage prevention programs are found to be more successful when there is an incentive to call.
  • Also encourage that the local one call center be notified during the permitting process at the local level. Excavators, construction companies, planners and others can/should also be required to list their one call ticket number on any building or construction permit that is stipulated by local governments.