Working in One Call: The Other Side of 811

Posted by Jamie Munoz on 05/17/2016

Jamie is a Senior Geographic Information System Analyst for Enterprise Products.

I have worked in the oil and gas industry since I was 16 years old. I am truly the epitome of “oilfield brat” and frankly, I am proud of it. Lately, the oil and gas industry has been struggling and the jobs are becoming more specific and demanding. As my title indicates, I am a Sr. GIS Analyst but I started off in this company as a GIS One Call Coordinator. A series of hierarchical changes put me in my current position, but a title does not give the full perspective of what it is I do.

One Call has become more prominent in the last few years and I see quite a bit more advertising for the 811 Call Before You Dig mandate, but I still come across those individuals who ask what I do and promptly glaze over with bewilderment at the mention of 811.  I do not believe Call Before You Dig is difficult to understand or even an industry secret, rather I fear that people outside of the utilities industries have not made a connection between themselves and the importance of understanding our many underground infrastructures. I believe the old adage “out of sight, out of mind” plays a large part in the lack of underground pipeline notoriety.

Most people run around with cell phones tucked in a pocket or stuck to an ear, but few bother understanding that before satellite, those little technological loves were hard wired into a wall mount that led to a buried line somewhere in the backyard. The same can be said for cable and internet services too. Unfortunately, they find out the hard way when the internet suddenly stops working, but most fail to associate the fact that a phone or fiber line, buried somewhere hundreds of feet from them and cut by Jim Dear putting in a flower bed for Darling, may be the reason they are unable to watch that last binge episode of Supernatural. They chalk up their misfortune to a technological phenomenon or some other unimaginable above ground hindrance and carry on without the Wi-Fi, oblivious to the real world interference.  

As a GIS Analyst performing one call duties, I hear of this type of situation often. I hear the discussions in the call center between an analyst and someone questioning why they need to call 811 in the first place. I often wonder how it is that these individuals do not know how dangerous a line strike can be, but then it occurs to me that perhaps they do know the dangers of a line strike, but do not understand it could happen to them.

They see a pretty lush lawn with big old trees and their kids swinging on the jungle gym that Santa brought last year. They see the dog chasing a panicked squirrel up a tree and the freshly packed mulch brought in this morning by the landscapers. What they do not see is the gas line running under the jungle gym, or the bits of orange plastic fiber line polymer (indicative of cable lines) in the jaws of that frightened little squirrel. They do not see that Fido just saved the evening plans of dinner and a movie with the family simply by doing what dogs do best. So why do they not see what I see?

How could it have escaped them to know that the easement in the backyard not only makes the yard wider but makes the yard wider because the land above it is meant to be undisturbed due to what is buried beneath it? They do not realize that by innocently driving the jungle gym anchors into the ground they came within a few inches of nailing a gas line that feeds their furnace in the winter, simply because they failed to see that a line strike could happen to them. After all, a backyard is supposed to be a safe place.

As a one call agent, I work diligently to ensure my company follows the rules protecting underground assets, but who works diligently to make sure that Citizen Joe puts two and two together? Sure he knows line strikes are bad. Sure he understands that there may be a line or two, and he may think -- possibly very small lines, buried in his neighborhood. But does he understand it only takes one assumption that the area is clear of dangerous lines, to drive a backhoe bucket into the ground only to find out that a line strike can happen to anyone?