While you may know March 14 as pi day (3.14) and May 4 as Star Wars day (May the fourth), today is of even greater consequence. August 11 – or 8-11 – is a day dedicated to safe digging known as 811 Day.
Why does safe digging matter? Because every year half a million incidents occur, costing an annual $30 billion loss the economy. From backyard patio builds to tree planting to major construction projects, everyday digging puts power lines, pipelines, cables, and wires at risk – and that puts people at risk too!
811 Day is a nationwide awareness day promoted by utilities, excavators, locators, and researchers. It all began back in 1998 when Congress required each state to develop a One-Call system with a centralized number to call in advance of digging in that state. Then in 2002 Congress passed the Pipeline Safety Improvement Act and called upon the federal government to create a three-digit toll free phone number to unify the One-Call center numbers individuals can call before breaking ground on a digging project. That was important because there were over 71 One-Call centers with their own 10-digit phone numbers, making it confusing and taxing to notify the right people before breaking ground. Many people did not know to call at all, and others chose not to.
Learn more about One-Call centers.
From there, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) designated 811 as the nationwide phone number. The FCC had three N11 numbers to choose from (411, 611, and 811) as 211, 311, 511, 711, and 911 were already set for other purposes. In its March 10, 2005 designation, the FCC required that the phone number 8-1-1 be implemented within two years of its recording in the Federal Register.
In accordance with these previous actions, 811 took full effect in 2007. Today, anyone anywhere within the U.S. (and Canada) can call -or click – 811 and be connected with their state or regional One-Call center. This is an essential first step for safe digging.
Once a homeowner or excavator calls 811, they can provide advanced notice that they intend to dig. The call center sends a notification to each of the utility companies in the area (e.g. water, sewage, natural gas, electric, cable, internet, etc). Without being able to see these underground utilities, an excavator could easily break into a pipeline and cause a dangerous gas leak or disconnect the home or neighborhood electricity or Internet. That is why the utility operators send out locators to find and spray paint the dig site.
If you’ve ever seen flags or spray paint on the grass, side walk, road, or anywhere else, that is only possible because of 811. These markings allow homeowners or excavators a chance to see the subsurface infrastructure that is powering modern life below their feet and safely avoid them when digging.
Nationally, over 22 percent of excavation damage incidents occur because no one called 811. More critically, damage to underground utilities is highest in the summer, meaning that right now in August, many excavators are hitting pipes, cables, and wires.
So if you plan to dig in your yard this week, next month, or in a year, make sure to call 811 before starting the project. It may just save your life.
Written by Benjamin Dierker, Director of Public Policy
The Alliance for Innovation and Infrastructure (Aii) is an independent, national research and educational organization. An innovative think tank, Aii explores the intersection of economics, law, and public policy in the areas of climate, damage prevention, energy, infrastructure, innovation, technology, and transportation.