Safe Digging Month: Beware of the Unknowns Underground 

April is National Safe Digging Month. Regardless of where you live in the United States, chances are there is an underground utility line that is positioned closer to your home or commercial property than you think. Underground utilities include gas lines and electric lines, but there are water and sewer lines, as well as fiber-optic communication lines underground as well. 

The fact is that out of necessity and the advancement of technology, more utility lines are placed underground, making the subsurface landscape a maze of buried lines, sewers, and many more. And while that may help extend the life of the utility lines and make for uninterrupted views, it also has made utility location more important than ever. 

Call Before You Dig + Public Utilities  

Not only does knowing what’s underground before you dig help protect against underground utility damage – which can be expensive – but can also help with larger-scale project planning. To serve as a reminder of this importance, April is National Safe Digging Month and encourages the public to always call 811 before any digging project. 

Calling 811, the national call-before-you-dig phone number, before digging on any piece of commercial or residential land, including your own private property, is a free service available to property owners and utility locators alike. A call to 811 will prompt a technician to be sent to the site to locate public utilities using electromagnetic equipment, marking any that run from the street to the service meter. This helps to prevent damage to public utility lines, but …. calling 811 does not ensure that the area is clear and you’re free to proceed with the digging.  

Private Utility Locating 

A private utility locator – such as McSteen – does not rely solely on utility maps because they are often missing, outdated, inaccurate, or incomplete. Instead, they perform a thorough investigation of the area in and beyond the right-of-way (past the scope of 811, public utility locators) using a range of specialized tools. These include electromagnetic equipment, ground penetrating radar (GPR) and electronic or radio frequency (RF) pipe and cable locating tools. In the end, a private locator is able to produce complete, high-quality utility maps of where current and abandoned lines run.

Project Development and Site Planning 

For larger scale and commercial projects, site planning or base mapping is often required. During this early phase of a project a topographic survey is normally performed to locate and map the existing site conditions. The base mapping shows utility locations based on public and owner records, OUPS records and marking, and above grade valves, manholes, etc., but below-ground utility locating is necessary to most accurately map what is underground. 

Private utility locating services can locate electric, gas, communications, water, sewer, and storm lines using a variety of electromagnetic sensors and ground penetrating radar equipment that are able to safely penetrate the surface of the earth. The signals produced by the equipment locate the pipes and wires, allowing the private utility locator to create a map or diagram of the location of each utility present.

Underground utility detection is essential to land development and project planning. Without locating utilities, a project may experience:

  • Budget overruns
  • Uncertain project schedules
  • Risk of injuries on the job site

With 50+ years of experience in all 88 counties of Ohio, you probably know that McSteen can help with your land surveying needs. But we now offer Utility Locating Services, Construction Draw Inspections, and so much more. We are here to help. Happy Safe Digging Month!

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