Modern Roots March

Know What's Below

When you see a tree, you know it has roots sprawling underfoot. When you pull weeds, you aim to get all of those roots spread across the whole garden just beneath the ground. What you may not think of quite as intuitively is that modern infrastructure has roots too. This month, Aii will be taking a look at modern roots to explore what our infrastructure looks like beneath our feet and how to safely interact with it.

Under the buildings, homes, parks, rivers, and roads across America, well over 20 million miles of utilities are pulsing with the power, water, gas, and telecommunications services needed to keep modern life running. When you look up at a street lamp at night, you can rest assured that the cool light illuminating the street corner is powered by electrical lines at its base running under the sidewalk, street, and even the grass nearby.

It is not difficult to understand, only something most people don’t think about. Underground facilities are out of sight, out of mind. But it is critical that we keep these things in our minds.

Damage prevention is the practice of avoiding underground utilities when digging. It begins with a basic rule: call 811 before any digging project. More nuanced damage prevention rules govern how best to dig, what tools to use, and how different stakeholders (e.g. the excavator, locator, utility company) interact with one another.

Stay with Aii this month during our second annual #ModernRootsMarch educational series. You may learn to recognize new aspects of the infrastructure around you. But most importantly, you can learn how to stay safe and protect others around you as well whenever you interact with the modern roots of American life!

The Importance of Calling 811

811 is considered to be a tremendous accomplishment for preventing underground utility damage. Still, though, the Common Ground Alliance estimates that over 500,000 pipes, cables, and wires are damaged during excavation projects each year. According to the International Risk Management Institute (IRMI), “the cost of one utility strike may rise to hundreds of thousands of dollars, and insurance will typically not cover that loss.”

If the strike to the line prevents other customers and communities from receiving service, fines can increase, about $10,000 per hour or lost service, according to IRMI.

In 2019, CGA published a report detailing a five-year rising trend in excavation damage and an estimate that it cost the U.S. over $30 billion in economic costs in 2019 alone. Those costs include both direct and indirect costs, such as power outages and internet loss, but also deaths and injury that can occur when natural gas lines are disrupted.

There are millions of miles of utilities beneath us, the consequences for damaging these lines are significant, and yet some people are still unfamiliar with how to safely navigate their digging project. The rule of thumb is that every dig requires a call. Even a simple tree planting or mailbox set up in your yard requires calling 811. They will begin the process for locators to visit your site and spray paint the area so you can see and know what is below before your shovel goes in blind!

Check Back Throughout The Month

Follow Along


Use whatever social media platform you prefer to follow along all month to learn more about the roots of modern society! See things from a perspective you never had before!


Read Our Other Reports

Damage Prevention in the United States incorporates a range of public policies and technologies. At Aii, studying the underlying challenges and presenting factual information is the first step to building a safer, more resilient future. Learn more:

More on Damage Prevention

Interested in learning more about damage prevention? Visit our issues page to learn about what supplies these modern roots.