Posted on April 24, 2017

PG&E 811 Outreach in North Bay Aims to Reduce Dig-Ins

By Deanna Contreras

Spring is here and it’s time to plant the garden, clean up the yard from winter storms and replant trees.

But before digging a hole for those tomatoes or replacing your downed fence or Eucalyptus tree, PG&E is educating customers, contractors, businesses, law enforcement and first responders about the importance of calling 811 before digging in the dirt.  One call or click online can avoid accidental strikes on gas and power lines, called dig-ins, and protect the safety of customers and communities.

PG&E's North Bay Division Leadership Team kicked off a statewide 811 campaign earlier this month. (Photos by Jim Wickham.)

“There were more than 190 accidental strikes on gas and electric lines last year in PG&E’s North Bay & Sonoma Divisions,” said Dave Canny, senior manager for PG&E’s North Bay and Sonoma divisions.  “Most of them could have been prevented if the underground lines were marked with a call to 811 or a visit to to get the USA (Underground Service Alert) ticket created and get those lines marked beforehand.”

Much of the effort has been taking place during April, which is National Safe Digging Month, and when PG&E’s Damage Prevention Awareness Team kicked off a blitz, of sorts, aimed at reducing the number of dig-ins. Beginning with PG&E’s North Bay Division, employees are working together to create workshops, seminars and meetings with those affected by dig-ins as well as public safety workers who respond to dig-ins.

“We’re happy to help get the word out to always call 811 before a yard project to have underground utility lines identified because it’s a safety issue that puts communities at risk,” said Christopher Gray, fire chief at the San Rafael Fire Department.  “Striking an underground utility pipe or line while digging can cause serious injuries, loss and even fires.”

In March, the first in a series of 811 Call Before You Dig workshops took place at the San Rafael service center and additional sessions are planned June 15 and August 29.

“Any homeowner, contractor or construction worker can attend the workshops.  We’re also setting up booths at local hardware stores and pounding the pavement the old-fashioned way to get the word out,” said Jim Wickham, public safety specialist for PG&E’s North Bay and Sonoma divisions.

PG&E's North Bay employees worked with the Corte Madera Fire District to showcase an 811 balloon.

“The one-on-one outreach has seemed to be the best approach with the contractors and businesses I’ve been working with,” said Aaron Lindh, DiRT (Dig-In Reduction Team) Investigator for PG&E’s Sonoma Division.  “I have been working with one company that had two dig-ins in a few days of each other. After explaining excavation laws, how the ‘locate and mark’ process works and why it works, they haven’t had a dig-in since.  The little extra education and outreach goes a long way.”

Another effort came in the form of a hot air balloon.  Between April 4 and April 6 an 811 hot air balloon was visible along Highway 101 in Corte Madera.  Wickham worked with the Corte Madera Fire Department and Common Ground Alliance to have the balloon showcased in front of as many people as possible in Marin County. The 811 hot air balloon later made appearances in Oakland and Sacramento.

PG&E’s multicultural communications team has also reached out to Spanish-speaking communities with workshops for day laborers and contractors in Graton and Napa and Berkeley over the past few weeks.

“Out of the 30 day laborers I met at the Graton Day Labor Center, most of them had not heard of the 811 service,” said PG&E’s Evelyn Escalera, who helped organize the Spanish-language workshop.

The workshop provided gas safety as well as electric safety information.

“It’s important to know electric safety information to ensure safety when we are out in the field working,” said Jesus Canela, one of the Graton Day Labor Center workshop attendees.

For more information on the 811 Call Before you Dig Workshop in San Rafael on June 15 and August 29, call (925) 328-6303 or email to confirm attendance.

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