Digging In on Digging Safely

By TMCnet Special Guest
Diane McCarthy
  |  May 01, 2011

Roughly half of all Americans have done or are planning to do some type of digging project at home. Yet only a third of those call or will call to get their utility lines marked.

Before reaching for that shovel to start digging, these homeowners – and professional excavators – should call 811, the national call-before-you-dig number. 811 is the free, nationwide number established by the Federal Communications Commission in 2005 to prevent the unintentional strike of underground utility lines while digging.

April was National Safe Digging Month, designated to remind everyone that the land is made up of a complex underground infrastructure of pipelines, wires and cables. Each year there are 170,000 underground utilities damaged annually across the nation, and one out of every three incidents is the result of not calling before digging. If an underground utility line is hit while digging, you can harm yourself or those around you, potentially be responsible for fines and repair costs, not to mention disrupt service to an entire area. (Do you want to be the neighbor who cuts the FiOS (News - Alert) line during the big game?)

Safe digging is a shared responsibility. Even simple digging jobs can damage utility lines. Multiple utility lines can run in one area and because their exact locations may vary, it’s important to get the lines marked.

Calling 811 is easy. It works this way: Call several days prior to digging to ensure enough time for utility lines to be properly marked. Advance notification requirements vary by state.

One free, simple phone call to 811 connects you to the local one-call center, which will notify all appropriate utility companies of your intent to dig.

A representative from the center will ask for the location and description of the digging project.

The center will notify affected utility companies, which will then send a professional locator to the proposed dig site to mark the approximate location of the lines.

Once lines have been properly marked, roll up those sleeves and carefully dig around the marked areas.

Verizon (News - Alert) promotes awareness of safe digging in a variety of ways. Beyond the committee and board involvement at CGA, Verizon distributes hats, gloves and other promotional items with the 811 logo to Verizon field operations personnel who have cable locating, maintenance and emergency repair responsibilities as well as to outside plant engineering personnel who are responsible for construction, protection, location and permanent restoration activities. The company also distributes logoed items to excavators, locators, municipal employees and right-of-way providers with whom Verizon works. And, we continue to outfit our fleet vehicles with 811 bumper stickers.

Separately, but equally important, Verizon and other professional locators have the responsibility to respond in a timely manner and to accurately mark their own underground facilities when others are digging.

In addition to supporting and promoting Safe Digging Month, Verizon also participates in CGA’s Damage Information Reporting Tool initiative. DIRT is a secure web application for collecting and reporting underground damage information. Each year, CGA collects the previous 12 months data and issues an annual DIRT Report. The intent of the report is to help users understand why events occur and how actions by industry can prevent these events in the future. Through root cause, trend analysis and education, Verizon and CGA hope to continuously reduce the number of underground damages occurring each year.

Verizon also works closely with the North American Telecommunications Damage Prevention Council, which has a long history of accomplishments in damage prevention, related specifically to the telecommunications industry.

In fact, each industry has a universal color that it uses to denote what is buried below. The seven colors and their associated industries are:

Red – Electric

Orange (News - Alert) – Communications, telephone, cable and TV

Blue – Potable water

Green – Sewer/drainage

Yellow – Gas/petroleum pipe line

Purple – Reclaimed water

White – Premark site of intended excavation

 Damage prevention and excavation safety only happen when all stakeholders work together. So, know what’s below. Call before you dig.

Diane McCarthy is senior vice president of Verizon Global Network Field Operations (www.verizon.com).


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Edited by Stefania Viscusi