811 Successes

By Robert Carpenter, Editor | April 2012, Vol. 67 No. 4

A notable, five-year anniversary was reached recently for a benchmark industry damage prevention program. And while it received some publicity, perhaps the program didn’t get as much attention as it deserved, especially when one considers the benefits – including health and safety – that have been credited to a simple three digit number: 811.

The federally-mandated national "Call Before You Dig" number 811 was created to help protect not only utility contractors, but the public in general, from unintentionally hitting underground utility lines while working on digging projects. Being principally promoted by the Common Ground Alliance, the 811 awareness program has been touted as being even more successful than most had dreamed possible. Much of the CGA’s recent annual convention highlighted the awareness and rapid growth of people using 811.

The “811 – Know what’s below. Call before you dig,” branding program has driven public recognition to high levels. The logo/message is even featured in NASCAR races. A car is sponsored as the 3M/811 #16 Ford Fusion.

Perhaps the most unique application and awareness-building effort for 811 appears in the form of a custom motorcycle. Paul Teutul, Jr., star of the Discovery Channel’s hit series “American Chopper: Junior vs. Senior,” was contacted by One Call Concepts President/CEO Tom Hoff about building a chopper as a way to “give back” to the industry. Teutul took the project to heart and even featured it on his television show. He attended the convention where the custom chopper was displayed.

The industry support for 811 has come from many companies and in many forms. One of the most notable supporters has been John Deere. The company has aggressively promoted the use of 811 throughout its organization, dealers and to its customers.

Of course, 811 is just part of the CGA’s efforts to raise awareness and ensure safety in underground utility construction. Officially formed in 2000, the CGA represents a continuation of the damage prevention efforts embodied by the Common Ground Study which was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation and completed in 1999. The initiative represented the collaborative work of 160 industry professionals who identified best practices relating to damage prevention. The CGA has grown to over 1,400 individual members, 180 member organizations and 44 sponsors.

The CGA estimates that as many as one-third of underground utility damage incidents are the result of a failure to call 811 -- in other words, incidents that could have been prevented. But by any definition, the CGA efforts have been incredibly successful.