Homeowners, farmers, ranchers and contractors alike have projects planned which include digging, excavating, drilling, trenching, and grading that could expose or damage underground utilities. There are over 20 million miles of underground utilities in the United States and calling 811 before digging could save thousands of dollars in damages and fines and prevent many unnecessary injuries. Call811.com provides instructions and timelines that are important to follow before beginning a project.
After a call to 811, each utility company will come out and mark where their respective “facilities” are. Each is designated with colored markers that represent specific lines such as red for electric; orange for communications; blue for water; yellow for gas, oil and stream; and green for sewer or storm drain. Markings are typically located up to and not past the user's service connection or meter.
Van Jackson, a damage investigator with PG&E’s Dig-In Reduction Team, says PG&E’s Locate and Mark Division utilizes maps and other equipment to make the location determination for those who call.
Incidents and accidents bring investigators like Jackson on the scene. He says of the 1,800 dig ins PG&E responded to in 2017, half were a result of people not calling 811 before digging into the ground. The other half is contributed to factors such as failing to maintain the clearance PG&E set for them, when they did come out.
Accidents that occur as a result of not calling 811 first, can garner steep fines. One incident Jackson was called to investigate ended in a $5,000 fine being levied against a homeowner. While he says that is on the high end of the monetary sanctions that people can be subjected to, it should serve as a warning that it is better to call.
“Fines,” he says, “are determined after an investigation of the situation, the damage that is caused and the work that goes into repairing that damage.”
“Safety and prevention are a vital part of what PG&E does,” Jackson said.
The company utilizes a team of investigators that travel throughout its service area, with an eye out for signs of excavation. They also visit sites to determine whether or not homeowners and construction crews have called before starting their projects. As part of its outreach efforts, PG&E also provides workshops that are held at construction company offices and city facilities.
“That’s a major part in trying to minimize the actual damages and injuries to those who are out here doing these excavations,” Jackson said.
In addition to information on safety practices, there is also education for individuals on California Code 4216 that mandates prior notification of dig projects.
Jackson, who works in the Bay Area, says people have been receptive of the offered sessions.
“I’ve been here 18 months; when totaled, just here in San Francisco, with all the outreach we’ve done, so far in attendance, we’ve provided workshops for at least 480 individuals from various companies that are doing work here in San Francisco,” he added.
In addition to those 90-minute workshops, PG&E also offers short videos online at www.pge.com on how to dig safely. There is no cost for calling 811 and having the utility companies come out.
“The key word is free,” Jackson said.
The service has been expanded over the years to become a resource that is available 24-hours, seven days a week. Assistance is also available in several languages, which could eliminate some barriers to calling. Homeowners and contractors can also ask for assistance, generating their own USA ticket, by going online and logging onto 811express.com.