A Year in the Life of a Liaison: My Rookie Season Ends

Part 3

My first-year journey with NC811 is quickly approaching its end. Not my career, but my rookie year of being the Western Region Education Liaison at NC811, and I saved the best for last. We all know change can be difficult, but one thing I learned this year is change is GOOD. The change I am talking about is cross-training with other departments at NC811 and locating contractors.

I had the chance to join our Customer Service Representatives (CSR) at NC811 and listen to how calls are taken. I learned to plan your work and work your plan. Everyone who calls or puts in a ticket by the process of Remote Ticket Entry (RTE) should know exactly what is needed at the job location to get the proper work done. You need to know everything about the job: crossroads, locating instruction, timeline, and knowledge of the type of work being done. You need to be able to provide that information to a CSR or enter it into a ticket to have all public utilities marked.

Once the information is conveyed, the ticket is sent to the appropriate members who may have lines within the area where you’re going to be digging. The ticket is sent to the Electrical, Telecommunications, Water, and Gas Departments to ensure safe digging.

I can’t say it enough – have all your information ready to give to the CSR when putting in a ticket. This is so important! For those who put tickets in on a regular basis, you may benefit from our RTE System that i s complemented by web-based training, which takes about 90 minutes and is conducted by an NC811 representative. Believe me, I was scared to death of the computer during my designer days and even if you told me I would win a million dollars by entering my tickets in remotely, I still would have shied away from it! But, after I came to NC811 and took the training, I am amazed at the time it saves by entering your own tickets online. I went from taking six or seven minutes per ticket by phone to averaging three minutes per ticket online. Let me tell you, when you’re putting in about 20 tickets a week, that is a major time savings right there. Not to mention, you can put your tickets in 24 hours a day instead of having to call them in from 7:00 am until 6:59 pm. Now, to be fair, there are a few drawbacks. One, you’re not able to enter your Emergency nor three (3) hour tickets in by RTE. However, new legislation is being submitted to resolve this issue. Still, take it from a guy who could have saved himself a lot of time and headaches if I had not been so hardheaded and started doing tickets online by RTE back in the day. I always said I wished there were 28 hours in a day. Heck, I wouldn’t have needed those extra hours if I had done my tickets with RTE.

I have always said don’t judge someone until you have walked a mile in their shoes. By taking the time to sit down with a CSR, I was able to see what they go through in a day. These well-trained professionals are always at their very best. I have heard from others that CSRs ask the same questions each time. Well, they are trying to put together a ticket for you and they have never seen the area and they don’t know the job. They can only put in the information they are given. If you want the best ticket, make sure to give them the best information you can. Have you ever wondered why the CSR will repeat everything back to you? It’s to make sure they have all the information you provided them correct, and if it isn’t, it gives you a second chance to correct the information. I used to get tired of hearing it read back to me, but after sitting in and listening to these calls, I realize how important that step is in confirming information. And with that, we refer back to planning: plan your work before calling.

With all locates, make sure you check your Positive Response. Surveys of excavators in NC have shown many rely on the marks and do not follow through with this important part of compliance designed to save you and your crews much needed time. Look over the Positive Response and make sure all utilities have responded. There are times crews have been sent out to a job that hasn’t been marked. In doing that, time and money have been wasted. Remember, look over the Positive Response and verify the codes before sending crews out. It’s the law. And that takes us to our next adventure.

Locating is no easy job. I remember being trained to locate with the electric company in the ’90s and I really thought it was going to be an easy breezy two weeks of learning. Well, locating is not as easy as you may think. I knew it back then and I know it even more now. Why? Because the only way to know the work you’re going to speak to others about is to go out there and get the “boots on the ground” effect. I had the opportunity to ride along with a locating company and see what a day in the life of a locator is like now. Simply put, it wasn’t an easy day. From dealing with the weather, traffic, and barking dogs, I really had my work cut out for me. Another challenge was planning our route for the day, one little call (for example a three-hour notice) can take your day off course.

Thankfully, locate equipment has come a long way in almost 30 years, from the old square box locators to the nice hand grip locators of today. Many people don’t realize what goes into locating: it starts with getting to the job site safely, parking your truck out of the way of others, getting to the accurate location to locate the correct lines that have been called in. Many people have gated yards, some with pets, and the locator must deal with all of it. The locator needs to get a proper ground on the utility they are marking and then be able to follow it out either spraying the required colored paint or flags, or even both for the lines to be marked (some request either or both depending on the work being done at the job location). From there, the locator may have to deal with terrain, sidewalks, driveways, or even utilities going into heavily wooded areas.

My day of being a locator was filled with all kinds of excitement, from having to move the truck because it was on a narrow road and needed to be out of someone’s way to locating the proper utility and communicating with the customer what is being done at this location. I cannot stress enough to those who call in tickets to make sure your locate ticket matches the white lining you have placed in the field. On my day in the field, we came across a few situations where the two didn’t match up, creating a guessing game for the locator. How do you resolve it? You must call the person who called the locate in to see what they needed done before finishing the job.

I have always said a locator can only be as good as the information they are provided. It is so important to make sure you give the proper cross street, marking locations, etc., to get utilities located properly and avoid any delays in your work. My first year at NC811 is coming to an end and what a year it has been. Even though I can take my “Rookie” stripe off, I know the learning process never stops. After 25 years in the business, there is still something new to learn every day.

NC811 is always improving our process and one of the newest and very best items we have updated is our new NC811 App. Remember me with technology? Our app has so much information to help make your job in the field easier – from the Damage Contact Information to Near Ticket Screen. Need to have a question answered quickly? Odds are you can look up the information for yourself and not have to wait on a return call from your liaison.

My last 365 days have taken me over 18,000 miles throughout the Western Region of North Carolina. It is always a pleasure to educate our community on the importance of Contacting 811 Before You Dig!

Thank You for following My First Year Journey with 811. Please always remember to Contact 811 Before You Dig! There is no cost to you for this process. And always be safe!

This is the third article in a series exploring a Year in the Life of a Liaison. Brian Morehouse is the Western Region Education Liaison with NC811. To read the first two articles, The Journey to Get to 811 (Special Locate 2020) or My First Year at NC811 (Summer 2020), visit dp-PRO.com.

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