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by Neal Goulet on Sep 5, 2017

It might be as simple as planting a tree or something a little more involved, such as building a deck.

Whether you’re a homeowner or professional contractor, if you’re digging with powered equipment, you first must call 811. It's also not a bad idea (though at your discretion) if you're simply using hand tools.

The Federal Communications Commission established 811 in 2005 as a way of preventing damage to utilities – water, electric, natural gas, phone, cable television – and possibly interrupting important services or creating a safety risk.

Think of it this way: 911 is the number to call in an emergency; 811 is intended to prevent situations that could affect you, your neighbors or the environment.

As a representative of the Indiana Utility Regulation Commission noted: “You need to call 811 so you don’t have to call 911 later, because it can be a serious consequence if you don’t follow the simple, free service.”


When you dial 811, your call automatically is routed to the one-call center in your area. The call center is open 24 hours per day, seven days per week.

The nonprofit Pennsylvania One Call System Inc., doing business as Pennsylvania 811, is based in West Mifflin, Allegheny County. Besides calling 811, you can reach Pennsylvania 811 online at paonecall.org.

Either way, if you or a contractor are planning to dig on your property, you must notify Pennsylvania 811 three to 10 business days in advance.

First, mark the intended excavation site in white, then call 811 to speak with a customer service representative (or use Pennsylvania 811’s web-based tool). In a brief conversation, you will be asked to describe where you plan to dig and the type of work involved.

The customer service representative will share your information with local utility companies (typically seven or eight). Each company will send someone to mark any underground utility lines they have on your property.


The markings, typically spray-painted on the ground, are color-coded: red notes electric power lines, cables, conduit and lighting cables, for instance.

Of course, as the property owner, you can be the first line of defense.

“Planning your excavation site is important,” according to Pennsylvania 811. “Look around: are there any indications that underground lines may be nearby? Take note of clues such as a manhole cover, a fire hydrant, a telephone pole with conduit going underground or pipeline or permanent markets indicating a buried facility?

“All of these clues should be taken into consideration when planning excavation and when excavation occurs.”

If someone else is doing the digging on your property, make sure that contractor has called 811 and that the utility companies have marked their lines before any work begins.


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