I spent roughly 25 years in the utility business before joining NC811 in February 2018. After taking on other roles over the previous few years, it was nice to be back in the business. Sometimes people think they want a change and look for other opportunities in life, stepping outside their comfort zone. It’s interesting how fortunate you feel when you get back to what you have spent over half your life doing.
811 “Call Before You Dig” was nothing new to me. I had 25 years dealing with locates and finding the underground lines or pipes before doing any type of excavating. It was familiar because I had conducted field work on the part of not only the Dominion Energy Electrical Construction Team but also the Design Team. What I didn’t know was all the information and data recovered behind the scenes. 811 does so much more than just transmitting locate requests and sharing positive response to the callers to let them know that it is safe to perform digging operations as marked.
Most don’t consider all the data gathered when a line is hit: Was it a first-time caller? Was the locate performed properly? Was the ticket valid or out-of-date?
NC811 is the second largest call center in the country in terms of incoming locate requests; only Texas takes more requests. In 2019, NC811 received over 2.2 million locate requests. Those numbers have been rising each year. 2019 reflects a 10.5% increase in requests over 2018. 2020 was on course for another record-breaking year for our organization, but with the COVID 19 pandemic, we are seeing a decrease of 8% in ticket volume.
When I walked through the doors of NC811 in Greensboro on my first day, I was prepared to create slides and give presentations. I quickly realized there is so much more to the job. I didn’t anticipate the number of calls I would receive each week about how locates are being done in the field or the variety of issues that arise from week to week. Even though I had been in the business to some degree, it was more than I had expected. But, with my mindset and determination, I was ready and up for the challenge.
Some may think Education is a great division to work in. I am here to say it is a WONDERFUL division and like no other. Our purpose is to get the message out to contact 811 before you dig and know what’s below. As a department, we all take great pride in what we do. We strive to make sure everyone knows what is needed to perform their work safely. We never want to see anyone get hurt, facilities damaged, or outages due to poor judgement.
As my journey to 811 continues, I’d like to share what I learned and how I am trying to help do my part in making improvements to our system as a team.
Education Liaisons speak at different Utility Coordinating Committee (UCC) meetings within our designated areas, to bring them the message of damage prevention. We provide them much needed information from monthly and yearly locates within their area to the types of excavations performed. We deliver safety information and discuss hot topics of concern and upcoming events of interest. We always open the floor up to talk about issues they may be having within the area that they represent. Stakeholders get to hear problems or complaints firsthand and this gives everyone the time and space to address them. I always tell my UCC members, if I don’t hear from you about certain issues, I feel like everything is going well. If there are challenges, I ask members to reach out to me so we can handle them as soon as possible. Finding resolutions are our goal in every one of our UCC meetings.
Being an Education Liaison is not a normal eight to five job; we spend many hours on the road. Personally, I cover the western region of NC, which includes mountainous terrain. However, not as busy as other areas of the state, the travel can be harder to navigate. Many mornings I am on the road at 5:00 am to get to my destination so to be prepared to present; sometimes I travel the night before. Nevertheless, while on the road, my Bluetooth is working overtime as I talk to stakeholders about things that have come up. We realize time is money and I hate to see crews waiting for a locate to be performed.
When I worked in the field processes were a little different and, over time, things have changed. I visit some organizations and share that I am with NC811, people look puzzled. As soon as I say, “You know, Call Before You Dig,” the lights come on and they say,” Oh yeah, I know who you guys are!” NC811 is trying to make everyone aware of who we are. You now see 811 on billboards, radio and TV commercials, sporting events, modified racing and yes, even water tanks here in NC. 811 is seemingly everywhere, but why? B ecause growth is happening across the country and North Carolina is no exception. We are blessed to work and live in a state that weather allows for excavating twelve months out of the year.
In my year here, I have taken the time to learn about all facets of NC811 including handling member concerns, making sure our mapping system is up-to-date, receiving and auditing the requests for locates, getting positive responses back to excavators, and showing what has and hasn’t been marked in the three-day time period. Plus, we are always here to receive those emergency calls 24/7, 365 days a year. I was not kidding when I said this is no eight to five job! We are always ready to take information to ensure a proper locate is conducted.
I was once asked, “what have you learned in your first year with NC811?” I learned I do not have a job, I have a passion. In summary, the message I deliver is straightforward and simple:
811 is your free number to contact when you dig no matter where you live in the U.S. Don’t take a chance on thinking you know where the utilities are located. This is a service at no charge to the excavator. Not many things are free these days, so take advantage of the 811 notification system to protect what lies below. Call or click 811 before you dig, wait the required time, check positive response, respect the marks and dig with care.
This is the second article within a series exploring a year in the life of a liaison. To read part one, visit dp-PRO.com. The final installment will be available in the dp-PRO Fall 2020 issue.