This April marks the 12th annual National Safe Digging Month, which reminds everyone to dial 8-1-1 at least three working days before beginning a digging project so that underground utility lines can be located and marked. This free and simple step can save lives and reduce risk of injury, repair costs, fines and inconvenient outages.
According to North Carolina 811, an underground utility line is damaged every nine minutes because someone decided to dig without first having underground lines marked. The depth of utility lines can vary for a number of reasons, such as erosion, previous digging projects and uneven surfaces, and the risk of striking a utility line exists even when digging only a few inches.
NC 811 was founded in 1978 as ULOCO (Underground Utilities Location Request), and 811 is now recognized nationally as the number to “call before you dig.” Electric cooperatives and other utilities fund the nonprofit organization, making it a free service for members and customers across North Carolina. In 2014, a state law was passed requiring membership of all owners of underground utilities.
The law also created a governor-appointed, 15-person Underground Damage Prevention Review Board, which reviews complaints against people who have violated the statute and provides the Utilities Commission with recommendations for penalties. Fines can reach $2,500, and violators are also subject to all repair costs. Greg Puckett, executive vice president and general manager of Surry-Yadkin EMC, represents North Carolina’s electric cooperatives on this board.
The national 811 phone number links residents to a local one-call center, which then notifies local utility companies to send out locators to mark underground lines with paint or flags to indicate where it is safe to dig. Once lines have been marked, make sure to dig carefully around the marks, not on top of them. Also, because utility line locations can shift, it is important to call 811 before each digging project.
For more information about safe digging and the “Call Before You Dig” process, visit nc811.org.