Planning on planting a tree? Burying some irrigation? Erecting a flag pole? Maybe even building a pergola in your backyard?
The Common Ground Alliance wants to hear from you before you do.
That’s because all four jobs require digging and the CGA is committed to protecting you and your neighbors from the dangers associated with striking underground utility lines.
Established in 2000, the Common Ground Alliance is a member-driven association that works to ensure public safety, environmental protection, and the integrity of underground infrastructure by promoting effective damage prevention practices for all underground facilities in North America, according to commongroundalliance.com. It promotes and develops public awareness campaigns and educational programs, and in 2007 launched the nationwide campaign to promote 811, the federally designated “Call Before You Dig” phone number.
“If you hit a gas line and you were to cause some kind of leak, that’s where we can have certain circumstances come into play,” Southwest Gas Corp. Public Information Officer Amy Washburn said. “We definitely want to keep the flow of gas as it’s intended to, but of course, if there is gas escaping and there is some source of ignition, it can cause something much more serious.”
Aug. 11 is National 811 Day. It’s a day set aside to remind everyone in the country to call 811 before commencing with any digging.
It’s a free service wherein the caller is connected with a CGA representative who then notifies each utility company with a potential underground line of the intent to dig. Utility companies with underground lines then send someone out to mark the approximate locations of the lines with paint or flags. That usually happens within two to three working days after making the call.
“We have a mapping system that will tell us exactly where the lines are on the premises,” Washburn said. “However, we also have technology that can help identify where our infrastructure is.”
More than 20 million miles of underground utility lines, including gas, electric, communications, water and sewer, are in the U.S., according to call811.com. Striking one can lead to “injury, expense, embarrassment and a very inconvenient day without critical services like electricity, internet or phone.”
“If a gas line is hit, Southwest Gas will respond to the incident site and at that time, we can evaluate exactly what’s going on, definitely secure the area to keep it as safe as possible,” Washburn said. “And at that point, we’re able to isolate the area and turn gas off to the impacted gas line and then get in there and make the repairs before restoring service.”
An underground utility line is damaged once every six minutes nationwide because someone dug without first calling 811, according to data collected by the CGA. People who call 811 prior to digging have a less than 1 percent chance of striking a buried utility line.
“Not calling (811) increases risks of harming yourself or others, disrupting natural gas service to an entire neighborhood, and potentially being responsible for injuries, repair costs and criminal penalties,” Washburn said.
Utility lines can be shallow and their depths can vary, and erosion and root structure growth can shift the lines’ locations, so it’s important to call 811 before every dig, according to call811.com.
Washburn said utility lines are in the front yard and backyard of people’s homes, and even people who aren’t Southwest Gas customers could have gas lines in their yards.
“That’s a really good thing for people to remember because you might not be a Southwest Gas customer, but there’s infrastructure running all over the place,” Washburn said. “There’s whole neighborhoods that are all electric, but there’s gas lines running all over because two subdivisions down might have gas and those lines have to stretch through, so we definitely have infrastructure running all over the place, so it’s even more important to make sure you know where everything is, both front yard, backyard, side yard, all of those places if you’re going to be digging.”
Washburn said National 811 Day is a great opportunity to remind people about the importance to call before they dig.
“We also always encourage it year round,” she said. “We have so many weekend warriors, as they call them. As the weather starts to cool down here and people are going to start digging in their backyards, or something as simple as putting in a new mailbox or digging a spot for a tree could be a potentially dangerous situation if you don’t know what’s underneath. So we just encourage everybody to always put safety first and call before you dig, it’s an easy, quick call and an easy and quick process.”