Posted on July 28, 2017

PG&E Survey: Only One in Seven Customers Calls Free 811 Service Ahead of Digging Projects

By Laura Brackley

​​When it comes to getting customers to use 811, the free service to mark underground utility lines, one thing is clear:

More education is needed.

True, 811 is well known. But a PG&E survey released Thursday (July 27) shows the resource is misunderstood and underused in Northern and Central California. Only one in seven customers has ever called 811 before digging.​

Professional locators like this one from PG&E mark approximate locations of underground lines with flags or spray paint.

To keep everyone safe when digging, PG&E urges all of its customers, excavators, first responders and businesses across the state to promote the free service and most importantly to use the service two business days ahead of any digging projects.

Here are some of the common misconceptions revealed from our recent survey of 1,750 of our customers:

  • Over 50 percent of customers think it’s safe to dig up to 12 inches before needing to call 811.
  • All customers and excavators need to call 811 every time they dig, no matter how deep they dig.
  • Almost 20 percent of customers believe it’s safe to plant a tree without calling 811.
  • Any time customers plant trees in their yards, they need to call 811 two business days before.
  • Of the customers who have never called 811 before digging, 60 percent felt their project was too small or believed it was already safe where they were digging.

“PG&E is committed to keeping the community safe, but we need the help of our customers and the community to avoid the potential hazards caused by dig-ins,” said Jesus Soto, senior vice president of Gas Operations. “Our recent survey gets to the heart of the safety issue showing that three in four of our customers are aware of the 811 free marking, but only one in seven has ever called 811 before digging. That’s not good and it needs to get better. Calling 811 is simple, free and can prevent injuries or even save a life.”

Ryan White, general manager of USA North 811 said his message is that no digging project is too small. In other words, any time a shovel or digging tool strikes the earth, you need to call 811.

“Whether you’re planting a tree, installing a mailbox or performing a large-scale excavation, calling 811 or using the new online tool should always be the first step,” he said.

Last year, there were more than 1,735 strikes on PG&E’s underground infrastructure. Of those dig-ins, more than 55 percent had not called ahead to have underground utility lines properly marked. In 2016, the average cost to those who damaged PG&E’s underground utility lines, including fines and repairs, amounted to $7,500.

In 2016, Sacramento was tops among cities in PG&E’s service with the most third-party dig-ins. In a positive development, Sacramento’s mayor recently accepted a gold shovel from PG&E’s John Higgins to commemorate that city’s commitment to safe digging practices.

Aug. 11 is National Safe Digging Day where the importance of calling 811 two business days before digging is recognized across the nation.

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"PG&E" refers to Pacific Gas and Electric Company, a subsidiary of PG&E Corporation.
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