Meet “Dig Safely New York,” the Nonprofit that Helps Prevent Gas Line Accidents

BY MICHAEL RICONDA

Nyack – In the wake of the gas line explosion at Nyack College last week and the revelation that it might have been the result of an excavation, many have questioned how such accidents can be foreseen in the future. However, Dig Safely NY, a not-for-profit set up in accordance with New York State law, has existed for a long time for precisely this reason.

Dig Safely, which was established in 1969, covers all of New York State except NYC and Long Island, and works with diggers in 55 of 62 counties. The primary duty of the group is to place local diggers in touch with surrounding utility operators, facilitating networking to encourage safe digs.

“We act as a communication hub that will transmit that information on to the utilities so that they know a dig is taking place and they can come out and mark the underground lines so that you can avoid them,” Operations Manager Kevin Hopper explained.

According to New York Code Rule 753, excavators must call Dig Safely NY prior to any work in order to prevent damage. While Dig Safely works to prevent such accidents, utility line disruptions are still common. Hopper explained 200,000 unintentional utility line hits occur annually in the United States, 1,150 of which were reported in New York in 2011.

Hopper added that 25 percent of New York hits occur as a result of a failure to verify the lines’ locations by calling Dig Safe.

“Twenty five percent of the damage can be prevented by making a free call,” “If you make a call to 811, it reduces your chance of hitting an underground utility line to under one percent.”

In addition to assistance via telephone, Dig Safely employs field representatives, has regional Damage Prevention councils, releases information for excavators to use in their digs and provides other tools for diggers to request information or contact with third parties.

According to Hopper, Dig Safely also attempts to do outreach and work with Orange & Rockland to prevent such incidents. Still, given Dig Safely’s limited capacities, the first line of defense against incidents such as the recent explosion in Nyack are diggers reaching out to verify the safety of their digs.

“The safe process has to be initiated by someone making that call,” Hopper said. “Once that takes place, it becomes a substantially safer environment for any excavation.”

Excavators can reach Dig Safely NY by making a free call to 811.