Pennsylvania 811 helps excavators and underground facility owners stay safe while digging

By Gene Axton

Current Pennsylvania 811 President Bill Kiger joined in 1974 when it was still named Call Kathy. Kiger attended a Call Kathy meeting as a representative of Bell Telephone under instructions from his boss to not get involved.

After disobeying orders, Kiger became part of a privately funded Pennsylvania corporation that took its mission to prevent underground utility damage statewide in 1977. Today, Kiger said Pennsylvania 811 has 3,515 underground facility owner members that help complete the process of checking for lines before escavations begin.

“The underground infrastructure we have is critical to everyone’s well-being and anyone who digs needs to make sure they’re doing it safely,” Kiger said. “This is a process that we do that allows excavators to do a single call that provides them with immediate access to our members, who then research their records. If their dig is involved (with utilities) a crew is sent out to mark lines. If their dig is not involved, the excavator gets a response that they can begin without the danger of running into a gas, electric or other line.”

Kiger said excavators are required by law to contact Pennsylvania 811 three business days before they plan to begin their project. Members then have 48 hours to research and mark any lines that may become involved with the dig. Excavators can then work inside a “tollerance zone,” which extends 18-inches along either side of the line.

The process of securing a legal dig through Pennsylvania 811 goes like this: Pennsylvania 811 acts as an “information broker” between excavators and underground facility owners by first getting information from excavators about their dig and reporting it to their members. Then the service receives the report back from its member and informs the excavator if findings are marked or if they’re clear to begin without any markings needed.

According to Pennsylvania 811’s website, the service took 808,862 calls in 2015 for excavation and sent upwards of 6 million messages to more than 3,500 sites in Pennsylvania.

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