A single call to 811 for an excavation project sets in motion a process that will reveal modern roots in a dig site. Damage prevention is a collaboration of different stakeholders who pass information on down the line until each party has completed their task and the site is ready for groundbreaking. After making the call, the excavator can sit back and wait while locators are dispatched to the dig site to locate specific utilities a few business days ahead of the start of a digging project.

One-Call centers receive notice of a proposed dig project and send out transmissions to each utility in the area. While the One-Call center does not send out locators itself, their transmission to utilities is when locators get tagged in.

There are two different types of locators, but they both do the same job. Some utility companies have in-house locators that they dispatch to dig sites to locate utility lines that the company owns or operates. Other utilities contract with third-party locating services, who may also screen tickets for the utility.

Each utility in an area – gas, telecommunications, water, electric, sewer, Internet, or other – may dispatch its own locators to a dig site. Third-party contractors may be contracted to multiple utility companies or a single company and locate utilities. In other words, an in-house locator may visit a site to mark only a single line, while a contract locator may visit a single site and mark multiple lines for the various client utilities that have contracted him to the same site.

Ultimately, there is little difference between third-party locators and in-house company locators. They perform the same service, use the same technology, and help prevent damage by marking a site ahead of an excavation project. Locators can be spotted out and about usually in a company vehicle, wearing a reflective vest and hardhat, and walking with a locating wand. They locate buried utilities in residential areas, on parking lots and pavements, in rural settings, and city streets. Depending on the dig site, they will use either spray paint or flags, which are color-coded to the type of facility below.

Knowing what is below our feet can be crucial to successful digging projects. Continue to follow along with #ModernRootsMarch for more education on modern roots and the damage prevention process and the utilities that buttress our daily lives.


Written by Roy Mathews, Public Policy Associate


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.