811-TN campaign offering explanation, supper

Friday, March 27, 2009

A private company chartered to protect utilities, their customers and the general pubic against accidents with underground service lines and main conduits is campaigning for public awareness of what it does.

In conjunction with that, TN-811is hosting another annual meeting with a free catered supper. This time it's at First Presbyterian Church in Lewisburg on April 14 when the pipeline protection group will explain what it does.

Knowing that can help people avoid a lot of trouble, according to Scott Holder, a damage prevention liaison with TN-811.

The system is simple. Utilities, home gardeners, road builders and anybody who's going to dig up dirt should call the toll-free phone number 811 before digging because they may not know where, for example, a gas pipeline is located.

"We have a call center with 40 agents near the Nashville airport," Holder said. "They receive calls about people digging and disturbing the earth.

"Seventy two hours notice is required before digging, disturbing the earth in any way such as blasting," he said. "We're a notification service."

Plans to dig in a particular place are relayed to the various utilities so they can check records to see if there are pipes or other utility conduits there.

Digging in a garden might only result in a small hole to an old waterline, or sewer, but a small hole to a gas line can become dangerous much later.

"It happens all the time with someone digging into the pipe," Holder said. "They may not know about it, but gas leaks out and has blown up a house."

Such accidents might be a result of a "fly by night back hoe operator," or a more responsible business, he said. Damage to a pipe might be a result of someone planting flowers or digging a post hole for a mail box, he sad.

Calls to the 811 call center generate a paper record, a ticket, Holder said. That ticket is used not only for record keeping in the notification process, but also the service's billing to utilities subscribing to the service.

The system took effect in May 2007, Holder said. It's a result of a bill passed by Congress and signed by President George W. Bush.

Invitations to utilities in Marshall and three other counties have been issued by TN-811 for the April 14 dinner meeting which Holder said is open to the public because TN-811 wants people to know about the service and for them to help protect underground utilities

It's important for even the average property owner, Holder said, recalling conversations with people who've said, "'I've owned this property for years and know where the pipes are.'"

It's not always so, he said.