Editor's Blog: Make Sure You Know What is Underground

Feeling the effects of a utility line cut firsthand makes you realize how customers feel when it happens
Editor's Blog: Make Sure You Know What is Underground
A utility contractor uses a Vermeer directional drill to install conduit at a job site in northern Wisconsin.

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Imagine sitting at your desk at work and realizing the phones aren’t working and your email is down. All because a utility contractor installing underground lines accidentally cut the lines.

I didn’t have to imagine it. This week, a contractor installing underground electrical lines down the road from our offices accidentally cut the phone and email lines. Just like that, we were without the tools we use.


The May/June issue of Dig Different that came out earlier this month has a focus on utility locating. The companies profiled — Mid-Atlantic Utility Locating and Sweetwater Utility Exploration — are some of the many private utility locating companies across North America that can help make sure all utilities are located before digging begins.

Starting with an 811, One-Call or similar service is usually required in every state. Contractors, however, should have locates double-checked no matter who performs the original locates. Even if the original locates are as little as 6 inches off, you could run into trouble.

There are also some utilities 811 may not locate, such as private electric lines run between the main meter to the house, shed, barn, garage or other buildings on the same property; wires for sprinkler systems; electrical lines for outside lighting; propane lines that connect a tank to the house; lines running from a meter to submeters; and fiber-optic lines from building to building.

Not having them double-checked could increase the risk of hitting something, and it may cost the company hundreds or thousands of dollars in repair costs.


If you do hit a utility, the big thing is not to panic. Accidents will happen from time to time, and if you remain calm and do the right thing, it will be fine.

According to a checklist from McLaughlin, a manufacturer of equipment such as vacuum excavators, locators and other tools, the first thing you should do if you strike a line is to get out of the way. Clear the crew away from the scene of the mishap and assess the problem from a distance.

Don’t assume the power line was de-energized. Typically it is re-charged several times in a matter of seconds after an accident and can continue to be a threat.

After you’ve moved away, contact the utility company responsible for the line. In the pre-work stage, you should survey the area and make note of companies that have worked there before you. Let them know what happened and find out what they want done.


If you have already located the utilities and double-checked them and are ready to proceed with digging, it’s wise to remain alert. There still could be unknown objects underground.

If you don’t try to rush through a job and remain alert, you should be fine.


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