Call 811 before starting any digging projects to prevent injury, service disruptions and fines

Whether you are a professional excavator or a do-it-yourself property owner, call 811 to have underground utility lines marked before your digging project begins.

In March 2005, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) designated 811 as a national “Call Before You Dig” number to avoid previous confusion when each of the 71 regional centers that coordinate location of underground utilities in the U.S. had their own 800 number. Deciding which of these multiple numbers to call as well as finding the appropriate number in the phone book caused project delays and frustrated many users.

Calling ahead before digging is necessary for many projects – from tree planting, installing an in-ground pool, sprinkler system or even an invisible dog fence. The law requires a person to call 811 at least two working days (three working days in Michigan) before beginning to dig so that underground utility lines can be located and marked.

There is a vast underground infrastructure of pipelines, conduits, wires and cables that form the backbone of our national energy grid. Careless digging is unsafe and can result in unintentionally striking one or more of these underground utility lines.

To ensure public safety and environmental protection, call to have buried utility lines clearly marked in the area where the digging will occur. There is no charge for having underground utilities marked. You may think you know the exact location of buried utilities but the depth of lines may vary, multiple utility lines may exist in the same area, and sketches provided to you by previous property owners may be inaccurate. Assuming that nothing has changed since lines were marked for previous digging projects can be risky and even life-threatening. Having the buried lines marked will prevent costly damage that can interrupt telecommunication, electricity, water, and natural gas service.

DTE Energy estimates annually there are about 10,000 incidents of digging-related damage to underground utility lines in Michigan. It suggests that once lines are marked, you dig carefully by hand to expose the utility lines before using power equipment. They also recommend you inform neighbors of your digging project so that they do not remove flags prematurely. If marking flags are pulled out before the work is complete, call to have the utility company replace them rather than “guesstimating” the proper location yourself.

The flags used by utility companies in Michigan are very colorful and may be appealing to young children who do not understand their importance. If there are young children in your family or nearby, explain to them the importance of leaving the flags in place. You might want to use the opportunity as a teachable moment explaining the color code used by Michigan utility companies.

Though it is likely not all colors will be present at your dig site, they are as follows: red: electric; orange: TV, telephone, cable, fire and police; yellow: gas and oil; green: storm drains; blue: water systems; brown: sewer systems; and pink: surveying.

Michigan residents may be more familiar with the MISS DIG system. This nonprofit independent company serves as a message handling notification service for underground facility owners. Open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, MISS DIG is authorized by Michigan statute, Act 53 of Public Act 1974. If a person “engages or is responsible for the planning or performance of any type of excavation e.g.; grading, demolition, cultivating, augering, blasting, or boring to provide advance notice of at least three full working days” per the MISS DIG website. Their toll-free number 800-482-7171 can still be used to request flagging of underground utilities in anticipation of digging activity. Requests can also be made online.

As spring weather approaches and snow cover melts, many Michigan residents will be anxious to get outdoors and begin a number of projects that may include digging. Whether you are a professional excavator, a farmer, a property owner, or someone who rents a home, remember to call 811 before grabbing a shovel or starting up power equipment for any digging project.

If you are looking for additional information about reducing risks around your home, Michigan State University Extension offers a wealth of resources. You can search the MSU Extension website for informative articles or use the MSU Extension Find an Expert website to locate a specific staff person who may be able to assist you. MSU Extension is also part of the nationwide Extension service will likely have additional helpful resources. Visit both eXtension and EDEN (Extension Disaster Education Network) websites to become more familiar with the many resources offered by land grant universities across the country.

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