Safety is Just a Phone Call Away - Carolina Country

Safety is Just a Phone Call Away

Planning to dig? Call NC 811. It could save your life.

By Greg Puckett

Greg PuckettThe heat and humidity of August can be unbearable by mid-afternoon, so you get up before the sun, have some breakfast and head outside. That old fence needs replacing, and you actually have time this weekend. Walking to the barn with your coffee in hand, you watch the sun start to rise over the horizon. The tractor is ready to go with the post hole digger already attached. The plan is to set the new posts about 10 feet out from the old fence. You’re moving right along with 15 holes dug out when all of a sudden you see a bright flash of light and hear a loud boom. After some smoke clears, you look down and see that your tires have blown. 

You just made contact with an underground power line carrying more than 7,200 volts of electricity. You’re lucky to be alive.

Buried beneath us are millions of miles of underground utilities essential to everyday life. They include electric, natural gas, water and fiber optic lines. Accidentally hitting one of these buried lines is dangerous and can cause expensive repairs. Depending on the type of underground utility, digging into one can even be fatal. 

The phone call this weekend warrior needs to make now will be far more difficult than the one he should have made a few days ago. Simply calling 811 earlier in the week would have prevented this nearly fatal and costly mistake. One call to 811 from anywhere in the country, at least three days before digging, schedules the location and marking of all underground utilities on your property.

What we all know today as NC 811 was founded in 1978 as ULOCO (Underground Utilities Location Request). Today, 811 is recognized nationally as the number to “call before you dig.” Electric cooperatives and other utilities fund the nonprofit organization, making it a free service for members and customers across North Carolina.

Homeowners and professional excavators are required by law to report any damages. Last year, more than 11,000 reports of damage were received by NC 811. In fact, an underground utility line is damaged every nine minutes nationwide.

In 2014, a state law was passed requiring membership of all owners of underground utilities. Also connected to this new law was the creation of a governor-appointed, 15-person enforcement board. I am proud to serve as the representative for North Carolina’s electric cooperatives on this board. The Underground Damage Prevention Review Board reviews complaints against people who have violated the statute and provides the Utilities Commission with recommendations for penalties. Fines can reach $2,500. 

In addition to possible fines, violators are also subject to all repair costs, which can escalate quickly in the evening or on the weekend. Not to mention, several of your neighbors may now be without power for an extended period.

Your electric cooperative and other utilities actively promote the NC 811 message and encourage members to call before they dig. We’re excited to also have a commitment from Lowes Home Improvement stores to wrap 1.5 million trees nationwide with the 811 message. This year, their tool line, Kobalt, added the 811 message to all long-handled tools.

If you’re planning to install a mailbox, build a deck, plant a tree, dig a pond, pour concrete or install a fence, make that call to NC 811. It could save your life. 

For more information about NC 811, visit

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About the Author

Greg Puckett is executive vice president and general manager for Surry-Yadkin Electric Membership Corporation in Dobson.

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