When UniSource Compliance Specialist Kristy Rees learns that someone has damaged an underground utility line by digging unsafely, she hears a common theme: People thought they knew where the lines were and assumed they wouldn’t dig deep enough for it to matter.
It’s easier than many people realize to nick a gas or other utility line and cause significant disruptions. Some common reasons? Installing a real estate sign in front of a house going up for sale. Putting in a mailbox or fence posts. Planting a tree.
Even seemingly shallow excavations can damage underground utilities. While natural gas distribution lines are installed a foot or more below ground, their depth can be diminished over time due to erosion, subsidence, landscape design and other changes.
“It isn’t just gas lines that could be impacted, but everything from water to electrical, sewer and cable,” Rees said. “There are just a lot of things buried underground.”
That’s why anyone planning to dig must call 811 at least two working days ahead of time. UniSource and other service providers will respond by marking the location of any underground utilities, helping you avoid a potentially dangerous and costly accident.
Nearly 50,000 requests to locate utilities were completed last year in communities served by UniSource. We also repaired 130 damaged gas lines, including 94 that were damaged badly enough to release gas. Luckily, none of those incidents resulted in explosions, fires or significant injuries. But any of them could have, which is why calling 811 is so important – even for small jobs.
Rees serves on the Board of Directors for Arizona 811, the statewide nonprofit organization that supports utility location services. She’s also involved with the Arizona Coalition for Utility Safety and Damage Prevention. The group’s public awareness campaigns include annual mailings, radio ads, newspaper advertisements and utility bill inserts. She also participates in exercises with first responders and provides presentations to community organizations to help raise awareness.
That doesn’t count the work she does with UniSource crews, who are constantly patrolling our service area and providing information on safe practices when they see red flags. Our crews build strong relationships with local excavating businesses to encourage compliance with utility location requirements and prompt reports if their work has compromised a line. “I’m really proud of the good work our employees are doing and the connections they’re cultivating across the community.”
For Rees, who joined the company 15 years ago, this is her dream job. “It gives me the opportunity to do some mentoring and teaching, and also analyze how we’re performing and how we can do even better, since our No. 1 priority is to keep ourselves and our community safe.”
Hitting an underground natural gas line can cause significant damage, she noted. Not only do our crews have to drop their work on other projects to respond, but firefighters must respond as well in case of a fire. Occasionally, evacuations are required of nearby homes and businesses. If it’s a business, they have to stop their work, which means they’re also losing time and money on their job. And then there’s a lengthy protocol to repair and monitor the gas leak, as well as investigations into lessons learned.
“Much of this can be avoided with just a call to 811,” she said. “It takes two working days to complete the ticket, and it’s well worth taking that time to be safe.”
Have a job coming up that requires digging? Get more information here: Call 811 or click Arizona811.com It’s a free service and it’s the law.