2022 IS A MILESTONE for several One Call Centers in the U.S., celebrating 50 years of operation! Since the need to protect underground infrastructure from excavation began, the One Call Industry has been here to enable effective communication between stakeholders. Over time the technology used to meet this mission has evolved. Starting with teletype systems and evolving to full computerization – even automated systems – over the years, the One Call Industry has held to its original concept of Cooperation, Communication, and Coordination.
Passage of the Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act of 1968 prompted the utilities of Pittsburgh Public Service Coordinating Committee (PPSCC) to form a subcommittee to address excavators contacting each utility independently. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was formed in 1971 and brought new pressure to formalize damage prevention. PPSCC hired an answering service to handle the excavation calls in 1972. The answering service took the information and relayed it to the member utility companies via a private line network of teletypes.
In 1973, the national American Public Works Association (APWA) established the Utility Location and Coordination Council (ULCC). In 1975, Pittsburgh hosted the first One Call managers meeting which went on to become the One Call Systems, International committee of APWA, used to share innovations and processes. APWA published the Uniform Color Code and Guidelines for Uniform Temporary Marking of Underground Facilities for the first time in 1979. These standards are still used today with slight modifications over time.
In 1976, Pennsylvania introduced a fully computerized ticket taking process with CRT/keyboard combination at the answering service with immediate transmission to the members. As technology advanced, the One Call Centers began offering methods of self-service to stakeholders. Products like fax-a-locate, ticket management systems, street screening, batch remote response entry through modems were all precursors to the systems in place today.
As more excavators used the One Call center, there was a need to simplify getting facility owner responses back to the excavators. In 1995 PA One Call introduced their automated response system, KARL, and began accepting facility owner responses, collecting them based on the ticket serial number, and transmitted them back to excavator prior to the proposed start date.
Access to the internet transformed the industry. Excavators and designers started entering their own requests via the web instead of fax or telephone. Modern day mapping systems made streamlining notifications possible. The use of maps expanded notifications to include work sites, enabling locators to see where the work would take place and determine involvement.
The implementation of the national number – 811 – was completed in 2007 and empowered the One Call Centers with joint public awareness efforts and an easily remembered number for the public.
The communication link that One Call provides has succeeded in reducing damages, saving money and promoting safety. Programs like Pennsylvania’s Coordinate PA connect stakeholders and improve collaboration and savings for shared projects, from design through construction activities. The ideal project allows for proper planning and coordination with other stakeholders to prevent things like digging up a newly paved road. Pennsylvania’s damages as a percent of total tickets has decreased from 0.83% in 1995 to 0.74% in 2021. The ratio of notifications going out has reduced while membership and ticket volume grew, showing the efficiency of the One Call system continues to improve.
The One Call Industry was born out of necessity when underground facility owners were scrambling to stop the repeated damage/repair cycle happening with their lines. As technology advances and stakeholder connections strengthen the commitment to reach no damages, the work endures. With the 50 years of experience, passion, and service as the foundation, the One Call/Facility Notification Center industry will continue the safety mission and support damage prevention well into the future.