How Evolving Technologies Have Reduced Damages to Underground Utilities

It’s that time of year—when weather around the country is heating up and construction activity begins in earnest. With that in mind, I hope you have seen logos and ads in your community about the importance of calling 811 before you dig. The goal of the CGA (Common Ground Alliance) is to educate professionals and homeowners about 811, the national call before you dig phone number, and highlighting the importance of having the approximate location of buried utilities marked before breaking ground.

CGA is the member-driven association committed to saving lives and preventing damage to North American underground infrastructure by promoting 811 and other effective damage prevention practices. Many of our 1,700 members have been busy this spring spreading the 811 safety message through creative advertising and community outreach campaigns—and there’s an important reason why so many damage prevention advocates continually push the simple “call before you dig” message: It works.

We know from CGA’s comprehensive annual DIRT (Damage Information Reporting Tool) Report that the chance of damaging buried utilities is reduced to less than 1% when you call 811 before digging. And while our latest DIRT Report reveals that buried infrastructure is damaged once every six minutes in the U.S. because of failure to call 811 before digging, the data overwhelmingly shows that as awareness of the free 811 service increases, the rate of damage is decreasing. In 2015, the latest year for which we have data, damages were down 9%.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the federal designation of 811 as the national call before you dig number. There is no question the designation of 811 as the national abbreviated dialing number for utility location coordination services has made a difference. During the last decade, damages have been reduced by 54% while awareness of the 811 service has doubled.

As CGA and its members have evolved and grown as an organization during the last 17 years, so has technology. Increasingly sophisticated tools and techniques for excavation have been developed, and CGA has a Technology Committee that evaluates technologies related to damage prevention. For contracting businesses looking for tech solutions to better manage their work and their 811 tickets, the resources available through our Technology Committee may be helpful.

But the fact remains that the single most important step any contractor can take is to have the approximate location of buried utilities marked before digging—and the technologies that have made the 811 process easier and simpler, especially for frequent users, have undoubtedly had a significant impact on the damage rate. In many states across the U.S., contractors and homeowners can alert their utilities of their intent to dig through a Web-based process and/or apps on mobile devices.

Whether you’re calling, clicking, or tapping 811, you could be saving lives. Always know what’s below, and 811 before you dig.

By Sarah K. Magruder Lyle, president, Common Ground Alliance

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