811 Continues To Gain Acceptance, Momentum

May will mark the fifth anniversary of the introduction of 811, the national one-call number to request buried pipes and cables be located and marked prior to excavation or any other earth-disturbing activity.

811 has changed the way requests for locates are initiated; no matter where a caller is in the United States, calling 811 rings the nearest one-call center. One-call personnel then contact member organizations to locate and mark their utilities at the requested location.

“Knowing where underground lines are buried before each digging project is the first step in preventing accidental hits which are costly and cause injuries and death,” said Bob Kipp, president of the Common Ground Alliance (CGA), the private, nonprofit organization that implements the comprehensive damage-prevention program to protect underground utilities. “811 was well accepted immediately and from our perspective, it is working great. There is no question that 811 makes initiating locates easier and contributes to reducing damage to buried facilities.”

The exact number of calls through 811 is impossible to estimate because calls continue to be placed to one-call centers using old 800 numbers, and all centers do not document the telephone numbers from which calls are received.

“Many contractors and facilities owners have old numbers programmed in speed dial systems, and many decals and signs with the previous numbers are still in place,” he added. “However, we know usage of 811 continues to grow, and we estimate, depending on location, that 30 to 70 percent of calls placed are 811 calls.”

Fast start
Following the adoption of 811 by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in March 2005, the CGA was charged with implementing the program nationwide by April 2007. In 2006, North Carolina became the first state to fully implement an 811 program.

As the 811 program was implemented, an education campaign was launched directly to all industry organizations with a stake in preventing damage to underground facilities and the general public.

Those efforts continue today, bolstered by the web site (www.call811.com), which has a wealth of information about 811, and how it works, and the importance of preventing damage to utilities. The site provides access to tools and resources that will assist CGA members and stakeholders spread the 811 message. Materials and tool kits are free to download and use by CGA stakeholders, national partners and professional excavators. Many campaign materials can be customized with individual organization logos, and certain materials are available in Spanish.

“Presence of the site,” said Kipp, “actually is reducing the number of calls to one-call centers because requests are made on-line. We see that as a positive step.

“The CGA and our 1,500 members and sponsors work continuously to raise awareness of 811 throughout the United States. The 811 awareness campaign continues to advance through stakeholder support and collaborative efforts with national companies including Shell Pipeline, Williams, TCPL, BP, El Paso, the U.S. Department of Transportation, John Deere, 3M, United Rentals and others.

“United Rentals is using 12,000 811 decals on the doors on cabs of its backhoe and excavator equipment fleets. Washington [D.C.] Gas, Portland Gas and Electric and national locating companies Utiliquest and USIC, recently launched impressive programs.”

Kipp said damage to buried utilities is declining and 811 has played an important role.

“As we continue our educational efforts, we will target the general public, landscapers and fence installers,” said Kipp. “Homeowners and fencing companies need to understand that any digging requires an 811 call. Typically, fences are installed along property lines, often in easements that contain buried facilities, and digging post holes poses a great risk of damage.”

FOR MORE INFO: www.call811.com

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