Call 811 before you dig into outdoor projects
There are more than 100 billion feet of underground utilities in the United States
By: Jenny Higgons
August 1, 2014
The Journal News
Before you start a project that involves digging, you need to make a call.
That's where Dig Safely New York comes into play. Call 811 a few days before digging, and your call will be routed to the nonprofit organization Dig Safely New York, which can process your location request. Tell the operator where you're planning to dig and what type of work you'll be doing. Your affected local utilities will then be notified about your intent to dig. You can also submit location requests at www.digsafelynewyork.com.
Customer service representatives are available all day, every day to receive and process emergency and regular two- to 10-working-day notice calls. With each call, Dig Safely New York notifies an average of six utility owners, which, in Westchester, Rockland and Putnam, includes Consolidated Edison, Verizon, Time-Warner Cable, Comcast and your municipality's department of public works.
In a few days, the utility companies will send their reps to use flags and paint marks to indicate the approximate location of your underground lines, pipes and cables. Whether you're planting a tree or shrub, or installing a deck or pool, every job requires a call, even if you've called before for a similar project. The depths of utility lines vary, and several lines may be in one particular area.
Established in 1968, Dig Safely New York promotes an easier and safer digging environment. The Syracuse-based nonprofit serves as a message-handling service for member facility owners and operators, taking information about planned excavations and distributing this information to its membership. It's then each member's responsibility to mark the location of its underground facilities at the excavation site.
Last spring, the Common Ground Alliance, an organization dedicated to protecting underground utility lines and the safety of those who dig near them, conducted a public opinion survey of 592 homeowners across the U.S. The inquiry found that homeowners will call 811 for certain projects, but not for all DIY landscape projects. The survey also found that 51 percent of American homeowners who plan to dig this year for projects will put themselves and communities at risk by not taking the time to pick up the phone.
"It's disturbing that 51 percent of homeowners aren't calling," says Dig Safely New York's operations manager, Kevin Hopper. "Especially based on the statistic that says when you do call 811, the chances of someone digging in an underground utility drops to less than 1 percent."
Other Common Ground Alliance data gathered also revealed that an underground utility line is damaged every six minutes nationwide because someone decided to dig without calling.
There are more than 100 billion feet of underground utilities in the United States, says the Alliance. That figure equals more than one football field's length (105 yards) of buried utilities for every man, woman and child in the U.S.
That's a lot of potential to damage utility lines, but that one phone call makes it easy for all homeowners to do their parts to avoid the related injuries and expenses.
"Unfortunate incidents can so easily be prevented with a free call to 811," adds Hopper. "Safe digging is no accident. So while the system isn't perfect, it's pretty close."
With additional reporting by The News-Press.
MAKE THE CALL
Everyone who calls Dig Safely New York at least two full business days before digging is connected to New York state's one-call notification center, which will take the caller's information and communicate it to local member utility companies. Professional locators will use spray paint, flags or both to mark the approximate location of underground utility lines at the dig site. Once the area has been accurately marked, it's safe to begin digging around the marked areas. Dig Safely New York encourages homeowners to take the following steps when planning a digging project:
Always call Dig Safely New York at 811 at least two full business days before digging, regardless of the depth or familiarity with the property.
Plan ahead. Call on Monday or Tuesday for work planned for an upcoming weekend; this provides ample time for the approximate locations of lines to be marked.
Before starting your dig, check Dig Safely New York's automated positive-response system to verify that all of your utilities have taken the proper action. Be aware that utilities do not locate private properties' privately owned lines, such as lines from a meter to your house or lines from your house to an outbuilding, pool or other separate structure.
Learn what the various colors of the paints and flags represent at www.digsafelynewyork.com.
Consider moving the location of your project if it's near utility line markings.
If a contractor has been hired, confirm that a call to Dig Safely New York has been made. Don't let work begin if the lines haven't been marked.
A national public opinion survey found that homeowners aren't likely to call for the following DIY landscape projects:
Planting a tree
Installing a pole for a basketball goal
Building a deck
Installing a fence
Digging a patio