The largest pipeline infrastructure in the nation lies right beneath the state of Texas.
Texas811, the largest one-call contact center in the United States, aims to prevent damage and protect both the public and the environment from gas leaks.
The organization staged a mock pipeline rupture earlier this month in Georgetown to demonstrate the hazards that await those who dig without first calling 811.
About 250 people, including first responders and construction contractors, attended the demonstration, witnessing the potential for disaster firsthand.
According to Texas811 pipeline response manager David Ferguson, there is damage to more than 9,000 underground pipelines across Texas each year.
"Almost 30 percent of those damages are caused by people not calling 811 before they start digging," said Ferguson.
The gas leaks can especially pose risks when construction and yard projects take place without calling the three-digit hotline.
"We're training both excavators that are digging, plus the emergency response agencies that are subject to keep the general public safe if there were a pipeline incident," Texas811 damage prevention manager Doug Meeks said.
Meek’s 34-year career has revolved around utility safety. He has worked for Texas811 for 11 years.
“I enjoy that I get to meet all sorts of people and do these events,” Meeks continued. “We want to spread the message as much as possible.”
Once 811 is called, organization locators plant colored flags in areas that mark where digging is being done.
Breaking a pipe during yard work, landscaping or construction can pose extreme risks to builders, excavators, yard crews and homeowners. State law requires calling 811 before you dig, and wait for crews to come inspect the property. This helps to avoid damaging underground utilities and prevent unintended consequences to your home, family and neighborhood.
“Call before you dig. It's a free service, it's required by law, it's meant to protect you the homeowner, and your general public around you," Meeks said. “There are over 1,700 member utility and pipeline operators that participate.”
Members of Texas811 hope to inspire more utility providers to participate.
"I believe that over time, more and more government officials are understanding the importance of water and sewer to be a part of the one-call system," Ferguson said. "In the future we may see that as a requirement, but currently, you may have to contact the water or sewer department directly."
“We’re trying to get people to understand that here in Texas there are over 400,000 miles of pipeline and we have them all over,” Ferguson continued. “We need to make sure that homeowners understand before they start to put a fence in or plant a tree that they always have to make sure they have everything marked so they know how to avoid those underground pipelines or other facilities.”
Ferguson worked for the Texas Railroad Commission as its pipeline damage prevention manager for 10 years. He joined Texas811 as its pipeline response manager a year-and-a-half ago.
Ferguson said that those unsure of whether they need to call the other departments separately should look at the bottom of the locate ticket that is assigned for the project.
"At the bottom [of the locate ticket] will be the members that belong to that 811 call center, and if you see that your city or municipality, water or sewer, is not a part of that one call ticket then you know that you need to call them directly," Ferguson explained.
The Texas Railroad Commission manages gas pipelines and penalized more than $4 million in pipeline damage prevention in 2017.
Texas811 demonstrates about 40 mock pipeline ruptures per year statewide.
“I love getting the chance to get out in front of people and educate them on the best practices of digging around these areas and helping them return home safely and keeping everyone else safe that’s in the vicinity of a pipeline,” Ferguson said. “Safety is our top priority.”
For more information, visit www.call811.com.