This week’s Pipeliners Podcast episode features Sarah Magruder Lyle discussing what 811 day is, its importance, and what CGA has planned for the future.
In this episode, you will learn about the history behind the 811 emergency number creation, its variety of supporters, and the biggest issue they face – noncallers.
811 Day Show Notes, Links, and Insider Terms
- Sarah K. Magruder Lyle is President & CEO of the Common Ground Alliance (CGA). Connect on LinkedIn.
- Common Ground Alliance (CGA) is a member-driven organization dedicated to preventing damage to underground utility infrastructure and protecting those who live and work near these important assets through the shared responsibility of its stakeholders.
- 811 (Contact Before You Dig) is the federally designated contact-before-you-dig number, designed to make the notification step of the safe excavation process as easy as possible. A person is required to contact 811 at least a few days before beginning any excavation or digging projects to allow time for locators to mark the approximate location of any buried infrastructure before excavation begins. Prior to the implementation of 811, people who dug had to know one call center’s 800 numbers, or notify utilities individually.
- PHMSA (Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration) is responsible for providing pipeline safety oversight through regulatory rulemaking, NTSB recommendations, and other important functions to protect people and the environment through the safe transportation of energy and other hazardous materials.
- The Damage Prevention Institute (DPI) is CGA’s newest arm, which creates an innovative opportunity for the industry to address systemic inefficiencies in the damage prevention process through a metrics-focused, peer-reviewed model of shared accountability that serves all stakeholders.
- CGA’s Damage Information Reporting Tool (DIRT) is a data repository that collects critical information about underground damage and near-miss reports. DIRT data is used to produce targeted recommendations to damage prevention stakeholders about how to best protect buried facilities.
- API RP 1173 established the framework for operators to implement Pipeline Safety Management Systems (SMS). A significant part of this recommended practice is a training and competency aspect.
- The Plan-Do-Check-Act Cycle (PDCA) is embedded in Pipeline SMS as a continuous quality improvement model consisting of a logical sequence of four repetitive steps for continuous improvement and learning.
811 Day Full Episode Transcript
Russel Treat: Welcome to “The Pipeliners Podcast” episode 295, sponsored by Enersys Corporation, providers of POEMS, the Pipeline Operations Excellence Management System, compliance and operations software for the pipeline control center to address control room management, SCADA, and audit readiness.
Find out more about POEMS at EnersysCorp.com.
Announcer: The Pipeliners Podcast, where professionals, bubba geeks, and industry insiders share their knowledge and experience about technology, projects, and pipeline operations.
And now your host, Russel Treat.
Russel: Thanks for listening to The Pipeliners Podcast. I appreciate that you’re taking the time. To show our appreciation, we give a Yeti tumbler to one listener every episode. This week our winner is Melissa Orehowsky with DT Midstream. To learn how you can win this signature prize, stick around until the end of the episode.
This week, we’re going to speak to Sarah Magruder Lyle with the Common Ground Alliance. We’re going to talk about 811 Day and what else is going on at the CGA. Sarah, welcome back to The Pipeliners Podcast.
Sarah Magruder Lyle: Hey, Russel. Thanks so much for having me. It’s great to be back.
Russel: As this episode releases, it’s August 8th. We’re right on the precipice of something really important. What are we on the precipice of?
Sarah: In just a few days, we will be coming up on 811 Day, August 11th, which is a very special day to the damage prevention industry because it gives us an opportunity to remind everybody in the damage prevention industry how important it is to contact 811 before they dig.
Russel: Sarah, we’re on the precipice, as this releases on August 8th, of an important day in damage prevention. That’s 811 day. Could you tell us a little bit about what 811 day is and how it came about?
Sarah: Absolutely. As we’ve talked about before, the Common Ground Alliance was founded on the basis of the first set of best practices that were part of a study from the Department of Transportation to reduce damages to gas lines and make sure that we were keeping our communities safe.
At that point, it was determined that a national one call number should be put in place. The numbers that were available were 811. That is how we ended up with 811 as a national one call number, similar to 911 or 411.
You get directed to your local one call center. We want to take the opportunity on this day to really reinforce the importance of contacting 811 prior to digging.
Russel: Who all participates in 811?
Sarah: All of our stakeholders. We have grassroots efforts all across the country, locators, excavators, facility owners, and operators. The Department of Transportation is participating. We’re working with Major League Baseball. We have over 20 teams participating in highlighting 811 day.
There are a lot of participants, which we’re thrilled about, because we do need to make everyone aware about how important it is. For the professional excavators, it’s really just about you needing to call. For the homeowner, it is more about knowing you need to call. This gives us the opportunity to reinforce both those very important messages.
Russel: I think it’s awesome. I know that many of the pipeline operators have entire programs. One of my favorites is Phillips 66. Every year in the last few years, they put out a pair of the fancy socks that have like cartoons on them.
Russel: I get a real kick out of that. I think that’s a very creative way to promote the idea of 811.
Sarah: It is. The one thing we want to make sure that we do is that it is not just about this one day, but taking the opportunity to really reinforce that this is something that we have to think about every day.
Russel: How did you manage to get Major League Baseball to promote 811? That seems like quite a coup.
Sarah: We have some very creative professionals in our industry. It actually started with the Nationals. Obviously they’re here in Washington, DC and the Department of Transportation has been very gracious and working with them.
The Department of Transportation and PHMSA will be at that game and they will actually be throwing out the first pitch, which we’re very excited about. They’ve always been very gracious in helping us out. It’s actually the PHMSA executive director Mac McMillan, he’ll be throwing out the first pitch.
Secretary Buttigieg has recorded a public service announcement for us to use as well. We are thrilled to have that support here in the DMV area and very excited to have the support of our member companies and industries across the country.
Russel: That’s really awesome. I need to get tickets for 811 Day. Go to the ballpark.
Sarah: I might be able to help you out.
Russel: I would be open to that opportunity. I would think that in Houston, with the Astros, that they ought to be doing something for 811.
We’ve got so many operators that are headquartered here. It seems only right.
Sarah: Absolutely. Houston has a very large grassroots outreach effort on 811 Day. We have the Texas Rangers and the Astros participating in our work. They work very hard to make sure that they get that 811 out there in as many places as possible.
Russel: That’s a big deal. When was 811 first established as the national call in number?
Sarah: It was established in 2007.
Russel: In the overall scheme of things, that’s not that long ago.
Sarah: It’s really not. It is amazing that we have come this far. When 811 was established, those numbers of damages that were due to not calling dropped significantly, just by giving excavators and damage prevention professionals a number that they could call no matter where they are or what they do.
They have done a great job. This is important to continue that effort and continue that work.
Russel: Absolutely. What other kinds of events are going on? There’s so many I know there’s no way you could potentially list them all, but what are some of the other big things that are happening on 811 Day?
Sarah: If we tried to line them all out, we would be here for a long, long time. Certainly, have the Major League Baseball outreach. Many of our companies do events in their communities.
We have our one call center who goes and they often use this as an opportunity to do outreach to their stakeholders in their states and make sure that they know that they’re there to help them and make sure that they do all the things that they need to do.
You’re talking about 16 industries across 50 states working together on this one day to get the message out.
Russel: The logistics of that, the scale of that is a bit mindboggling. The number of companies and individuals that are impacted by this, it’s a very large number.
Sarah: It is a significant number. If you follow us on any of the social media on 811 Day, it will take you a long, long time to look at all the pictures.
Russel: Yes, it will. I have done, so I could state that that’s true. It’s absolutely true. How would somebody who’s interested in participating participate?
Sarah: There’s a variety of ways. Certainly, I would look to your one call center in your state if you want to get involved in something grassroots.
Certainly, a lot of your listeners probably work at some of the companies that are involved in this, and most of them do have some sort of effort for that. Certainly, we try to make sure that everybody knows what’s happening around the country.
There are a variety of opportunities, but you will definitely start seeing, particularly around today, on the 8th, we’re going to be doing this, we’re going to be doing that. Your local one call center is the best place to start learning about what’s going to be happening in your area.
Russel: I would assume, too, you can probably just Google, “811 in my area,” and find a lot of stuff.
Sarah: There will be lots of things.
Russel: That’s awesome. I want to talk about some other things about what’s going on with CGA, but before we do, is there anything else you’d like to say to pipeliners about 811 Day?
Sarah: Take the opportunity to educate those who work for you, from your in house contractors, to those that you contract with outside, to your locators, everybody involved about how critically important it is to make that notification before they start excavating.
Russel: I would add, have some fun with it.
Sarah: Have some fun with it, yes.
Russel: Because there’s a lot of things that happen that not only are they educational, but they’re also fun.
Russel: What else is going on at CGA these days? What’s happened since the last time we talked?
Sarah: Since we spoke last time, our Damage Prevention Institute is up and running. We just accredited our 1,000th organization, which we’re very proud of. The Damage Prevention Institute, as you may recall, is really focused on measuring how we get to success.
How do we make sure that we’re doing the right things to reduce damages, and that we’re working together to make sure that we’re reducing those damages? It’s a huge accomplishment. We’re going to keep going, and while we have 1,000 organizations now, we want to have 5,000 organizations. This is just the beginning.
We really want to normalize what damage prevention means to this group so that we can be consistent and that we can really educate excavators, locators, facility owners on how important this is. As we have added these 1,000 organizations, CGA is now one of the largest utility contractor associations in the country.
It’s a real opportunity for us to make their voices heard so that the excavators can contribute to the conversation, they can contribute data, and we want to make sure that we’re using the right data to make the right decisions. The more data we have, the better off we all are.
Russel: Amen to that. I want to come back and ask a question for my education. You mentioned that you have 1,000 accredited Damage Prevention Institute entities. What does it mean to be accredited?
Sarah: As a CGA member, you have the option to join the Damage Prevention Institute, which means that you agree to submit a certain level of information to us beyond just DIRT and that you are willing to say you will comply with best practices and that you are willing to be measured that we want to put in place a system that says we are doing these things to reduce damages.
It’s another level of information that we gather and of commitment by the companies to be involved in the institute.
Russel: Are you performing audits or reviews of the accredited members?
Sarah: We will be, eventually. We just got this up and running. What we will do is we will be looking at those and saying, “Are you meeting your requirements? Are you looking at opportunities to reduce damages? Have you implemented best practices? Are you participating in our next practices initiative and doing the things that we need to do to move the industry forward?”
Russel: That’s certainly something where the pipeline safety management plan-do-check-adjust cycle makes a huge amount of sense. Certainly, a lot of that just starts with people signing up, building programs, and starting to collect data. Doing that across an entire industry, that’s a big deal. It could really add some real value and move the needle in a material way.
Sarah: Absolutely. The thing is certainly we’re here on The Pipeliners Podcast and that SMS process means a lot to your members, but what we have to think of is we have a lot of other utility owners out there. This is about a process, regardless of whether you call it SMS or something else.
We have public works and fiber and telecom and powers, making a huge push to underground. We have all of this money going into our infrastructure to rebuild and make us better. We want to just get outside of what it means to the pipeliners because it’s the other people that are also hitting their stuff.
Russel: I get that. The point I want to make for our audience is what you guys are doing is a similar thing to PSMS. I don’t know if it’s similar, but there’s aspects that are similar. It’s broader in terms of the number of industries it’s addressing, but narrower in terms of the processes it’s addressing.
Sarah: Yes, that is correct.
Russel: Now I’m starting to talk like an engineer a little bit, but it allows you to really get deep with the data and get deep with the processes and the best practices, and really work with industry.
Not just to understand, are you implementing and such, but more importantly, are we, as an industry, achieving the outcomes we’re looking for, and do we need to modify the processes? If you have normalized processes and normalized data, you can make those decisions.
Sarah: That’s right. Then we can compare apples to apples, which is part of what we’re trying to do. I’m going to give your listeners a little sneak peek into the DIRT Report. As you may recall earlier this year, we announced that we were challenging the industry to reduce damages by 50 percent in five years.
What we’ve seen is that those top six root causes have been consistent for several years, and there’s no surprise for the 2022 data. It’s the exact same top six, and it’s extremely consistent year over year. That’s, again, why we’re going to focus on no notification as we move forward.
When we were at our Summer Committee Summit, that is what we focused on, no notification. We have to work with excavators and really ensure they’re doing it every time, every dig, every time. We really have to make sure that we are reinforcing that risk assessment and what the risk is if you don’t.
The other reasons are falling in two other buckets, potholing failure to maintain clearance, and then light in inaccurate locations. As we talked about on the previous podcast, there’s a systematic challenge there that’s happening.
That’s what our Next Practices initiative is, really trying to figure out what we can do to make the big systemic changes in the damage prevention system so that we can address those and impact those root causes and make sure that we’re reducing those numbers.
Russel: Anybody, who is a practitioner with safety management being a type of process quality management, knows that you get to plateaus and that the plateaus require you to do a fundamental rethink of your approach.
Really, I think that’s where CGA is with damage prevention as you’ve reached a plateau, and it requires something fundamentally different. You have to build a new capability to take another major move of the needle, and that is what you’re doing through the damage prevention institute and the process you’re putting in place.
It’s awesome. For me, being an engineer, I want to see the data. What’s the data telling you? I’m sure it’s too early to know yet.
Sarah: It is, however, with this increase in the number of excavators that we have in our membership, we’re going to have a lot more data as we move forward. What’s important is that we’re able to see the whole picture of the process.
The more data we have across the damage prevention industry, the better off we’ll all be because then we’ll be…Are we really focusing on the right issues? Are we really focusing on the parts of the system that are a true challenge?
We want to be able to develop more tools that are data driven to help us achieve our 50 in 5 goal and arm our stakeholders with the right tools to make that happen.
Russel: Yeah, that’s a mouthful. Those are worthy initiatives, but there’s a lot of work there. It’s a lot of effort.
Sarah: There is a lot of work there, but the Next Practices Initiative, the Damage Prevention Institute, those efforts have really, really taken on a life of their own. Certainly in trade association land, you don’t always have the volunteers that you want, as many as you want.
This has really changed the attitude and perspective of many in the industry. We have a lot of participation in these efforts.
Russel: That’s a really interesting point, Sarah. I’m involved in a number of volunteer organizations. Sometimes a new initiative breathes new life into the volunteering because you get people who have renewed interest or you find people that you didn’t know before because you’re doing it differently.
They have interest in what you’re doing. It can breathe some new life into the volunteer base as well, because all of a sudden they’re doing something new and different and they’re learning and there’s value there.
Sarah: Absolutely. There’s been a big rethink about damage prevention. When we started down this road a few years ago, we really thought about what’s next, right? That was the piece that the industry really hadn’t focused on, which is what is next. We’re very focused on best practices, which is very important.
We have to know what the best practice is right now, but how do we push the industry forward into what’s next? Through mapping, through better technology, through collaboration. Those efforts have really increased the momentum behind pushing the industry forward to look at what’s next to help us reduce damages.
Russel: I know that you guys recently had your summer committee summit. I know that’s an annual event. What were the takeaways from your summit?
Sarah: We have our annual meeting in April, our CGA conference and expo, and then we have our summer committee summit, and we also have a fall committee summit. We were in Gulf Shores, Alabama this year.
We had our Next Practices Advisory Committee meeting there, our Damage Prevention Institute Advisory Committee meeting there, and our board met there. Our focus was on no call damages.
We really wanted to make sure that we’re taking our committees and that everybody is putting their efforts into addressing these three buckets that we talked about earlier during the podcast. The first one is the largest – no call damages.
Russel: I’m curious, because to me, that is one of the toughest ones to address.
Sarah: It is.
Russel: I’m curious what y’all are coming up with in terms of action plans or how you’re thinking about addressing that issue.
Sarah: Like every solution, it’s not cut and dry, and there are a variety of things that are going into that. One is, how are we assessing the risk and how are we empowering the contractors to assess the risk? Are we incentivizing them to say, “Wait a minute, something’s not right here in stock work.”?
Or are we penalizing them for delaying the job because they’re trying to be safe? We have to make sure that we’re really setting and creating an environment in which that is a priority. If we can’t make notifying 811 a priority, that is a challenge.
That’s the first piece, is, how are we assessing the risk of not calling, and reevaluating the financial impact of what happens if you don’t call. Then, also, you have to protect the people who live and work near these important assets.
It’s very easy to get into the normal routine of, “I have to do this, I have to do that,” but we are trying to change the mindset around, “Wait a minute. If you decide not to call, why?” That is an active, “I’m not going to do it.” It is the law in every state, so why are you not doing it?
Those are the things that we have to focus on. We also are focusing on through Next Practices and the Institute, what can we do to make it easier for those that are calling? If you’re an excavator and you know that the locators in your area aren’t going to get to your job on time, you’re probably not going to call.
Are we fixing the things that are causing that decision making? We have to change what the equation is to make sure it’s the right one.
Russel: That’s very competencies, capabilities focused and looking at for each of the stakeholders, what’s getting in the way from having them do their job effectively? It’s not so much about people not calling because they don’t know they should, at least with the professional excavators.
It’s more about, for some reason, they’re making a decision. It’s more difficult and more risky for them to call than to not call.
Sarah: That’s right. The question is, why are they making the risk assessment that it’s OK to not call? That they’re willing to take that risk. Therein lies the challenge.
Russel: That’s a really interesting question. It’s a different frame, too.
Sarah: It is a different frame. When we’re looking at the data, and it’s been consistent for this long, why? That is how the Next Practices Initiative came around, which was, why do we keep doing what we’re doing, definition of insanity, and expect a different outcome? The industry has evolved faster than the process has.
We have to make sure that we have a process in place that enables the excavators to make the right decision. A big piece of that is mapping. The technology exists to arm locators, excavators, and other facility owners with mapping data that protects not only their assets, but everybody else’s.
We have to have a rethink about mapping, and how it’s working, and are we providing access to the right data to make sure that you’re actually protecting your assets?
Russel: It’s not just the mapping. It’s also the locating, and is the locating reflecting what’s on the map? If it’s not, what do you do? That’s where you get spun out. It’s where you get somebody who picks it up off the maps, and then you get a locator out there, and it’s not the same.
Now, the excavator is like, “Oh, my gosh, what do I do now, because now everybody knows, and now I’m hung up?” These are the kinds of things for me, Sarah, that’s fascinating about what CGA does and how you’re approaching it.
When I first got exposed to 811, nobody knew about it, not every state has it. That’s where I first got exposed. We’re way past that.
Sarah: We are.
Russel: Every state has it. It’s the law in every state. Now what?
Sarah: Exactly. The system did work well for a long time, but you have to evolve. As technology has evolved and infrastructure has changed, if you think back, copper lines are not the thing anymore, right? You hit a fiber line, you could be knocking out half a city, a 911 center, a hospital, a first responder.
It’s a very different game now than it was, and it’s increasingly congested.
Russel: You’re right, because 20 years ago, we were still putting infrastructure on poles, and now we’re not doing that anymore. If we can, we’re putting the infrastructure in the ground. There’s all kinds of reasons why that’s a good thing.
Sarah: There are all kinds of reasons, but it is more expensive to bury it. The rationale should be, “We definitely want to make sure that other people digging around our assets know where they are so they don’t hit them.” Sometimes holding the information close to the chest isn’t really to your benefit.
Russel: What’s coming up in the future? What’s coming up for the rest of the year? Where is CGA going to be hanging out?
Sarah: We are going to be in a bunch of different places as a matter of fact. Like I said, in just a few days we will be at the Nationals versus Oakland A’s game with the Department of Transportation. I actually just got back from the Power Contractors and Communication Association Conference.
Next week we’ll be at the National Conference of State Legislatures in Indianapolis. I will be at FiberConnect, and then we will be at several regional conferences. Our next committee meeting, our fall committee summit, will be in Indianapolis in November.
Stay tuned for that. Then of course, we are looking forward to our 2024 CGA Conference and Expo. Our call for proposals will actually be opening up next week. If you have a strategy, technology, or partnership please submit an abstract for consideration.
We want to provide a place where we can talk about all kinds of ideas and work together to make this a safer industry for everybody.
Russel: Listen, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to us. I want to give you an opportunity to make a final comment about 811, which is just a few days after this podcast drops. I’ll let you do your final commercial plug for 811 day.
Sarah: Thank you for that. I appreciate it. While we focus a lot of our efforts on August 11th, just remember that 811 is important every day of the year. If you’re going to dig, if you’re going to excavate, no matter how shallow, you should call.
We want you to go home safely to your family and we want you to protect those who live and work around these important assets.
Russel: We want you to be able to stream your movies on Friday night too.
Sarah: Stream your stuff, yes. As one of our members said, you don’t want to be the guy that knocks out the Internet or the fiber lines on Super Bowl Sunday.
Russel: Yeah, exactly. That would not be good. I just want to let the listeners know that you juggled your schedule in order to be able to do that and allow us to get something out right before 811. I really appreciate it.
I know you run around, you’re always traveling, you’re always going to conferences. Thank you for making this happen.
Sarah: Thank you for the opportunity. We’re always happy to be your guest, Russell. Thanks to all of your listeners for helping us get the word out on August 11th.
Russel: I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode of the Pipeliners Podcast and our conversation with Sarah. Just a reminder before you go, you should register to win our customized Pipeliners Podcast YETI tumbler. Simply visit pipelinepodcastnetwork.com/win and enter yourself in the drawing.
If you’d like to support the podcast, you can do that by leaving us a review wherever you happen to listen – Apple Podcast, Google Play, Sound Cloud, wherever. You can find instructions at PipelinePodcastNetwork.com. If you have ideas, questions, or topics you’d be interested in, please let me know on the Contact Us page at PipelinePodcastNetwork.com, or reach out to me on LinkedIn. Thank you for listening. I’ll talk to you next week.
Transcription by CastingWords