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April is National Safe Digging Month. The observance reminds anyone considering an outdoor project that breaks ground to get underground utilities marked in advance. Having them marked is free and easy; simply call 811 at least two full business days before starting a digging project. While state laws vary, utility companies generally have a few days to respond to your request. 

If you don’t take the time to call before you dig, you could become the person who digs in an unmarked yard and strikes an underground line every nine minutes. No one wants to be that person. 

People are tempted to skip calling in advance because they think striking a buried line will not happen to them. They assume they will ‘not dig too deep’ or ‘be careful.’ However, underground lines are unyielding. Their path is unpredictable, and hitting one can happen with one strike of a shovel or other tool. Every project, big or small, requires advance notification to 811. To start the underground utility marking process, call 811 or visit your state’s 811 center website. 

After submitting a request, underground lines will be marked by their respective utilities; however, 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. 

If you are only digging in a small area of your yard, you can outline the area in white spray paint or with white flags to ensure that only that part of your yard will be located and marked. (White flags are available at home improvement stores.) 

There are five steps to safer digging: 
1. Pre-mark the proposed dig area with white paint or flags. 
2. Call 811 or go online to submit your locate request before you dig. There is no charge for the service. 
3. Wait the required time (typically two business days). 
4. Respect the marks and do not move any flags. 
5. Dig with care. Avoid digging on top of or within 18–24 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 


Safe Electricity is the award-winning public awareness program of the Energy Education Council, a 501(c) 3 (not-for-profit organization) established in 1952 on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. With offices located in Springfield, Ill., Safe Electricity operates under the University of Illinois Extension and is led by the 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.