Evolution of CGA – It’s a Big Deal!

As I listened to Jim Anspach’s keynote address on the History of the Common Ground Alliance (see the article based on the transcript of his keynote on page 44) at the CCGA Damage Prevention Symposium in Banff last October, I began to reflect on how the industry was founded and how far we have come. In the beginning, there was no national dial-before-you-dig number. There was no Damage Information Reporting Tool (DIRT). There was no unified voice working together to reduce damages and protect our people, our infrastructure and our  environment. Today, CGA represents 1,600 national members and, with Canada, that number reaches 2,000. Today, the 811 number is accessible to 95% of the country and more than 47% of people have heard of 811 and know what it means.

Looking back on the data from the first year CGA published the DIRT Report, out of the 700,000 reported damages, the root cause 45% of the time was failure to call. That means there were more than 300,000 damages caused simply because someone didn’t call in a locate request. Last year, that number was down to 95,000, a reduction of more than 200,000 damages because people are beginning to know and understand what 811 stands for.

That’s a really big deal. The cover of this issue features the 10th Anniversary 811 logo because I believe it is a really big deal. The CGA is throwing a huge celebration at the 2017 CGA 811 Excavation Safety Conference & Expo to celebrate this milestone because they think it’s a really big deal. And Bob Kipp, president of CGA, and a good friend and colleague, took the time to talk to me about the path to 811 because he personally believes it is a really big deal.

In March of 2002, Bob testified before Congress in support of a national dial-before-you-dig number. A bill, sponsored by Chris John, Congressman from Louisiana, suggested setting up a three-digit calling number. At the time, each call center had its own 800 number, which made it difficult for the general public to easily comply with dig laws. The bill passed and the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was mandated to find a three-digit number. At the time, #DIG (#344) was commonly used and was considered. The problem with #DIG was that 344 was a valid area code. To use it as a three-digit call number, it would have to be removed as an area code, eliminating millions of potential phone numbers and accelerating the inevitable move from a 10-digit phone number to a 13-digit phone number. Unwilling to do this, the next step was to look at available N11 numbers. The five commissioners of the FCC unanimously voted in favor of 811 as a national call-before-you-dig number at a public hearing in 2005.

Once selected, telecommunication companies were given two years to roll out the number nationwide. The vast majority of telecom switches were digital, but some were mechanical and required some level of labor to make the new One Call number work. All computers had to be reprogrammed to reroute calls to the appropriate call centers. By May 1st, 2007, this work was complete and 811 was rolled out.

he creation of 811 as a One Call number was a major undertaking requiring multiple stakeholders to work cooperatively to achieve success. A sub-committee of the CGA Education Committee developed the 811 logo in 2007. That logo, to Bob, me, CGA members, and many others in the industry, has moved beyond simply being a number to call. Like the Dallas Cowboys “Star”, the “NY” of the New York Yankees, the “CH” of Montréal Canadiens, 811 has become the excavation damage prevention “team logo.” Across the country, you can find the 811 logo on holding tanks, billboards, outreach pamphlets and flyers, locating equipment, t-shirts, and ballpark signs, just to name a few examples.

Bob thinks that’s a pretty cool thing. And I agree.


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