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Avoid injury, fines, power outages by calling 811 before digging

Orange flag marks the location of an underground utility line in a leaf-covered yard..

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — National Safe Digging Day, or 811 Day, is upon us. Easy to remember because of its 8/11 date, the day is a good reminder to get underground utilities marked prior to breaking ground. Having utilities marked is free and easy to do; simply call 811 two to three business days prior to starting your project. While state laws vary, utility companies generally have two to three days to respond to your request.

Why is it necessary to get buried utilities marked? Underground lines are unyielding, and their path is unpredictable. Digging in an unmarked yard can mean striking an underground utility line, which can cause serious injury. Damaging a utility line can also cause unwanted service disruptions, including a power outage, as well as a hefty fine.

“While it can be tempting to skip the important step of calling before you dig, it can be a costly and dangerous omission,” says Erin Hollinshead, executive director of Safe Electricity. “Underground utility lines could be anywhere. They also shift over time and can be found just a few inches from the surface.”

Every project, big or small, requires advance notification to 811. To start the underground utility marking process, call 811 or visit Examples of projects that require utility location include putting up a fence, installing a mailbox post, building a deck or patio, and planting trees and shrubs, among others. Any project that breaks ground requires that underground utilities be marked.

If a contractor is involved, check with that person to determine who will make the request. Locators do not mark private lines such as service to outbuildings, underground sprinkler systems, or a gas line to a grill, for example. Private lines are the responsibility of the homeowner.

Before digging in, take these five steps to safer digging:

  1. Pre-mark the proposed dig area with white paint or white flags.
  2. Call 811 or visit the website to submit your locate request before you dig. There is no charge for the service.
  3. Wait the required amount of time (typically two to three business days).
  4. Respect the marks and do not move any flags.
  5. Dig with care. Avoid digging on top of or within 18 to 24 inches on all sides of utility marks, which may mean moving your digging project to another part of your yard.

For more information about electrical safety, visit For more information about 811, visit

ABOUT EXTENSION: Illinois Extension leads public outreach for University of Illinois by translating research into action plans that allow Illinois families, businesses, and community leaders to solve problems, make informed decisions, and adapt to changes and opportunities.

Safe Electricity is the award-winning, public awareness program of the Energy Education Council, a 501(c) 3 established in 1952 on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. With offices located in Springfield, Ill., Safe Electricity operates under University of Illinois Extension and is led by the Safe Electricity/EEC Board of Directors. Since the Safe Electricity program was created in 2001, it has provided thousands of safety-minded resources to its more than 500 utility members from across the country to help save lives and reduce injuries.