No industry has been left unscathed by the far-reaching effects of COVID- 19, and that includes the many facets of the damage prevention industry. One critical industry group, One Call centers, has had an especially challenging road adapting to the many, constantly evolving range of difficulties that have come with this global pandemic.

As recent as the beginning of March, the magnitude of the virus and its long-term effect on workplaces was still unclear. As positive cases around the country grew and state governments took actions to limit its spread, One Call centers took actions to both protect their employees and ensure that tickets could be processed safely. Many construction and utility operations were deemed an “essential business” meaning digging would continue and One Call centers had the responsibility to process requests.

The first order of business for most One Call centers was allowing employees who were able to process tickets from home to work from home. The next step was to communicate their continued ability to process tickets to excavators.

On March 13, 2020, Okie811 released a statement to reinforce the center’s ability to process tickets, “OKIE811 is classified as an Essential Service and is continuing to process all locate requests, 24×7. Excavators MUST continue to abide by Section 63-142 of the Oklahoma Underground Damage Prevention Act and ensure all underground lines in the excavation area have been located and marked before beginning any excavation project. Excavators are not to use mechanized equipment within 24 inches either side of the marked line but instead expose underground lines by hand digging.”

Chris Stovall, President and CEO of Texas811, released a similar statement on March 16, “…we have the ability to continue operating. Our call center is taking and processing calls, our web portal is operational and our entire staff is available to answer any questions and to address any concerns.”

Louisiana 811 released a more cautious statement a few days later, on March 19, “… please note some of our industry partners may experience interruptions in resource availability. These interruptions may result in delays in providing field services such as responses to locate requests, performance of excavation activities and other related services.”

The concern expressed by Louisiana 811 was founded on a forecasted decrease in availability of locators and excavation workers due to either the virus itself or distancing objectives affecting their ability to work. That concern also led to pleas to the public to avoid doing non-essential home projects that required contacting 811.

MISS DIG released a statement on April 7 discouraging homeowner projects if possible, “Delaying digging until after the Governor’s executive order is lifted is best, but if it can’t be put off, it’s important to call 811 no matter how small the project.”

The predicted strain on locators quickly became a reality and One Call centers added an additional request to excavators to make the job safer – white lining. It was recommended that excavators white line the worksite prior to locators arriving onsite. According to Texas811, dig sites that are white lined have half the damages of worksites that are not.

As of this writing, many One Call center workers continue to work remotely. They are still successfully processing ticket requests despite the challenges brought by the virus. The importance of the work they do, alongside locators and responsible excavators, cannot be understated. Our buried infrastructure is being leaned on harder than ever and their work is allowing many people to remain living and working safely from home. The agility the process has shown in response to an unprecedented situation is both noteworthy and impressive.

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