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Call 811 Before You Dig

Underground utility lines can be dangerous and cause outages if they aren’t marked before excavation.
By Mary Ann Milbourn

You can’t be too careful when digging because you never know what is underground, says Mitch Knudsen, general superintendent in charge of outside plant construction at Rosemead-based Irish Construction Co.

He has heard horror stories during his 32 years in the business like the 1976 accident in Culver City in which a petroleum pipeline was ignited during an excavation, killing nine people and burning a city block.

“We have a firm and solid policy to call 811 at least two days in advance or more,” said Knudsen, whose company installs underground systems. “All it takes is one little spark.”

The free Underground Service Alert of Southern California, now called 811 DigAlert, was set up after the Culver City accident, but digging without calling continues to be a problem.

An underground utility line is damaged once every six minutes nationwide, according to the Common Ground Alliance, an organization of North American underground utilities. The organization estimates there are 20 million miles of underground utilities in the U.S.

Although California state law requires contractors to call 811, homeowners planning a project often don’t realize that they need to contact the service too. The most common homeowner projects that might involve underground lines include:

  • Installing sprinklers and irrigation systems;
  • Planting trees and shrubs;
  • Building new or replacement fences; and
  • Digging a pond.

Anyone who plans to do any digging should call 811 or make a request online at least two working days in advance of the project. Utilities with underground lines in the area will come out and mark their lines.

Paul Jeske, Southern California Edison’s director of Corporate Health and Safety, emphasized the importance of calling 811.

“First and foremost, we care about the personal safety of our customers and their families,” he said.

Jeske said SCE also is concerned about providing reliable power service to its customers.

“By using 811, our customers will be less likely to cut or damage underground electrical lines and avoid service disruptions due to severed or damaged facilities,” he said.

For contractors and others who make a living working near electrical infrastructure, SCE also provides free materials in English and Spanish on how to work safely around electricity.

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