8-1-1 or 9-1-1? You make the call; Prevention over panic or pain

During a mock presentation of a gas pipeline rupture, a “worker” is overcome by hazardous gas fumes. This scene was part of an underground damage awareness scenario and safety event Tuesday morning at the fairgrounds. Photos by Juanice Gray

By Juanice Gray, jgray@natchitochestimes.com

The old saying “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” holds true when dealing with a gas pipeline rupture. Enertech, in conjunction with Atmos Energy, the city of Natchitoches, Enable Midstream Partners, EnLink Midstream and other entities presented an underground damage awareness scenario and safety event Tuesday, June 5.

The first scenario depicted the proper way to utilize the La. One Call (811) system to flag and mark the pipeline, communicate with other entities and engage in safe digging practices such as using a probe to manually verify the location of the line. Jeff Morrison, damage prevention coordinator with La. One Call said laws concerning digging changed last year.

“Everybody knows to call before you dig, but a lot of people don’t know exactly what digging is. The definition of excavation has changed. Excavation is any operation that results in the movement of the soil,” he said. He emphasized that it encompasses anything from a shovel to an backhoe and from a T-post to a high line pole. “By law, no one is exempt from notifying 811 first,” Morrison said.

During the second scenario – everything went south.

The excavation crew did not call 811, did not mark the area, did not wait for the area to be flagged and did not pay attention to the warning signs. They simply began to dig resulting in a ruptured line that released hazardous gasses. A trackhoe operator got to safety but his spotter succumbed to the fumes. This is where the pound of cure comes into play. By not using the proper precautions, one man is down and the other is on his phone dialing 911. Now police are involved to secure the scene, firefighters are involved to contain it, a fire rescue team is involved to retrieve the fallen victim, the EMS team is involved and eventually the ER team when the victim arrives.

Isn’t it easier to call 811 than 911?

In the second scenario, it took almost 15 minutes to rescue the victim, and that was with the first responders on standby for the mock situation. In real life, had this happened in a remote area, the time for rescue would have been longer and the outcome could have been different. Morrison presented a “dig safely checklist” free to all participants. It outlines simple procedures such as call 811 before you dig, wait two full business days for the site to be marked, respect the marks and dig with care.

“In Louisiana, law states the markings are valid up to 20 days or until the paint is gone, whichever comes first. If either occur, you must call again,” he said. Greg Kittle, Liaison Program Manager with Enertech said, “The area marked has an 18-inch tolerance zone. This means no excavating should be done within 18-inches above, below or to either side of the marked area.” Each flag color also represents a different type of line. For example, red is for electrical, yellow for gas and orange for communications lines.

“Striking any kind of underground line is not something anyone wants to take lightly,” said Kittle.  “Should it happen to be gas, for instance, you literally have only seconds to make decisions that could save your life.  As partners in safety, pipeline companies value the unique skills and expertise of the emergency responders. Working through this scenario, we all gain hands-on experience and learn from each other in the process.”