It was January 1, 1995, when BC 1 Call logged its first request to locate underground infrastructure. The organization has been helping keep communities safe ever since by encouraging people to “click or call before they dig” to avoid the many buried pipes, cables and conduits within their dig sites. Trans Mountain is a proud member of BC 1 Call. Protecting underground assets is paramount to Trans Mountain and damage prevention has always been part of our strategy.

Over the past 27 years, BC 1 Call has become a vital part of damage prevention strategies in the province. Safe digging best practices, including using BC 1 Call, reduce the risk of buried infrastructure hits and the disruption of community services delivered through those assets we all rely on – services that have become even more important during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We spoke with Chris Hyland, President & CEO of BC 1 Call, to learn more about what’s new with the organization.

Why is it important for people to click or call before they dig?

We want contacting BC 1 Call to become a standard practice, not just best practice, for anyone planning on disturbing the ground. There is now so much critical buried infrastructure that chances are you will inadvertently hit something, so it’s really important that all excavators, construction contractors, landscapers and homeowners – anyone intending to disturb the ground – first contact BC 1 Call, no matter how small the project.

It’s not just about preventing damage to pipes and cables, it’s about protecting workers and our communities against environmental damages, personal injury and service disruptions. What we’ve learned through the pandemic with more people working and staying at home, is that our community services have never been more important – people are relying around the clock on their internet connection, heat, drinking water and other home services, just as businesses do.

How many locate requests does BC 1 Call receive in a year?

We are pleased to say that BC 1 Call received a record number of locate requests in 2021.

Last year, 241,374 locate requests were submitted online or by phone – that’s a 13.4 per cent increase over the 2020 prior record. These requests drove 687,075 notifications from BC 1 Call to members (utility owners or operators) whose assets lay within the proposed dig sites. Notified members then provided the excavators with important information about how and where to dig safely to avoid damage to the underground facilities.

Our membership is stable, and the number of people registered to use our system is at an all-time high.

Currently, over 90,000 people are registered users of the BC 1 Call system, a user community that has tripled in just the last two years.

What has changed for your organization in recent years?

We have continued to invest in our world-class BC 1 Call contact centre. We went from a call centre to a contact centre in 2007, enabling online locate requests. Today, about 85 per cent of contractors and 89 per cent of member employees use the online service, which has allowed us to scale to meet ever-growing demand. Further enhancements for the convenience and ease of use of members and users were made through the adoption of a new platform in 2019, in concert with the other three Western Canada provincial one call centres.

Our members have always been committed to responding to locate request notifications within three business days in recognition that excavators need to schedule their work and get timely instructions on how to avoid damaging underground infrastructure when doing their work.

What kinds of infrastructure do BC 1 Call members represent today?

We currently have 351 members from all sectors that typically operate underground infrastructure. We’re pleased that 100 per cent of oil and gas companies holding pipeline permits are members, as are at least 95 per cent of telecommunications companies and 70 per cent of local governments. Members also include utilities in the energy sector, and airports, ports, universities and other important single-site operators.

How often do damage incidents occur in BC?

Across Canada, more than $1 billion worth of damages occur annually to underground infrastructure.

Here in BC, according to the 2020 Damage Information Reporting Tool (DIRT) Report, 1,241 reported damage incidents took place in 2020, which is 4.9 per day. Sixty-three per cent of these incidents were caused during construction or water/sewage work. Because this is a voluntary reporting tool, we know these numbers only represent a subset of all damages.

The report stated the root cause of 50 per cent of damage incidents was the failure to contact BC 1 Call. So, we know there’s more to be done to raise awareness of our service and promote regular use.

We are grateful to more than 27 education and training partners that now include reference to BC 1 Call in their professional training, whether related to construction, roadbuilding, the operation of heavy equipment or landscaping, to name a few types of courses. Professional training raises awareness among those who should be including use of BC 1 Call as part of their project and work plans to ensure worker safety, avoidance of project delays and costs due to infrastructure hits and environmental damage.

What is the next step for your organization in terms of increasing exposure?

We feel we are now strongly embedded in the safe digging best practices of the province, and our communities are safer because of that. But more needs to be done to encourage more users and more consistent use of our free service, as well as to add new members. We aim to step up efforts to raise awareness of our brand and the availability of our free service, and the engagement of all potential users. We’ll also be recruiting more members.

Aside from these efforts, we’d like to support the increased focus by all levels of government on resiliency, due to extreme weather events, such as the floods we experienced last year.

There will be an increased focus on supporting efforts to prepare for and recover from extreme weather incidents. In some cases, people need to prepare for a flood by doing some additional trenching or moving heavy structures to higher ground. If you’re experiencing an emergency and can’t wait the standard three-day turnaround for a response prior to breaking ground, we ask that you please call 1.800.474.6886 to place an emergency locate request.

We need to enhance our collaboration efforts with those in charge of getting emergency information out there. We want people to know we’re here to help in a way that works for them, so we can prevent additional issues during what is already a very stressful time.