Do you know 911’s cousin, 811?

May 3, 2013, 2:10 PM


Did you know that consumers are supposed to call a three-digit number, 811, before starting any digging on residential property? Many would-be diggers don’t, which is why the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) began an 811 public education campaign last month.

PHMSA has good reason for getting the word out. Striking buried lines is a leading cause of pipeline-related death and injury and can lead to service outages in whole neighborhoods. Over the last 20 years, property damage costs were over $500 million nationwide from such strikes.

PHMSA estimated that three out of ten households will begin residential construction or renovation projects this spring. A call to 811, which connects would-be diggers to a local utility’s call center, a few days before planned digging generates a visit from a local representative who will mark the approximate location of nearby underground lines, pipes and cables, so workers can dig safely.

 “We want 811 to become as well-known as 911, because digging without getting your utilities marked is not only dangerous, it can also cut off services to an entire neighborhood and cost you money[in fines],” said PHMSA Administrator Cynthia Quarterman.

Since 811 debuted six years ago, serious pipeline incidents from unsafe digging have decreased by more than 45 percent, according to PHMSA.

And 811 and 911 have other three-digit cousins you should know about, too. The Federal Communications Commission oversees ten three-digit numbers that range from vital to helpful and are all toll-free. Access for 911 and 411 are available throughout the country.

Not all communities have been able to find the funding (costs include salaries for operators and creating websites, databases and call infrastructure) for informational three-digit numbers such as 311, which links to non-emergency police offices and local government services.

Below is a the list of the FCC’s approved three digit numbers. Budgets cuts can sometimes impact information three-digit call lines by, for example, cutting hours. Many communities, however, are beefing up the service through website access and recorded information, in those cases.

Three-Digit Numbers

011: Used to enable international dialing

111: Reserved for switching and routing purposes

211: Used for community information and referral services

311: Used nationwide for non-emergency police and other government services

411: Used virtually nationwide by carriers for directory assistance

511: Used for traffic and transportation information

611: Used broadly by carriers for repair service

711: Used nationwide for TTY access to Telecom Relay Services (TRS)

811: Used nationwide to coordinate with utilities before digging

911: Used nationwide for emergency services

 >>Bonus Links:

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.