If you’re looking forward to the spring season, Plant a Flower Day is just around the corner on March 12. However, be sure to call 811 ahead of time to be sure it is safe to dig into the ground. Digging without locating underground utilities, even with the smallest digging projects, could leave neighborhoods in the dark, cause thousands of dollars in damage or cause severe electrical shock.

Outdoor projects take planning and preparation. Part of that preparation is planning to avoid underground utilities, and 811 helps consumers do this. It’s easy, free and keeps you safe.

The 811 “Call Before You Dig” number is a national line that was created to help prevent people from coming into contact with underground utility lines during digging projects. Don’t want to call? You can also fill out an online form at illinois1call.com. A professional will come to your digging location to mark the areas where public utility lines are buried.

When you call, 811 will route you to your local utility locating service. Before you call, you will need to know where and when you plan to dig and what type of work you will be doing. Be sure to call in advance as it takes several business days for a professional to mark your public utilities with flags or spray paint.

Different colors of paint and flags mark the underground utilities, and each color is universal to what utility is buried.

Even if you previously had utilities located by calling 811, it is best to call before every digging project. Underground utilities can shift, and it is important to be certain of where they are before ever putting a shovel in the ground.

If you accidentally come in contact with an underground utility, do not bury the problem. Your priority should be evacuating the area for safety. It can be difficult to locate exactly where a problem is after the damage occurred and was buried. Damage to some underground utilities can cause dangers and inconveniences miles away from the original site of the incident.

Small nicks in underground wires can be expensive, but necessary, to fix. If you nick an underground utility, notify your utility provider. Do not attempt to fix the problem yourself.

It is important to understand that 811 locators do not locate privately installed facilities. If you have any private utilities, you will need to hire a private utility locator. Some examples of private utilities include underground sprinkler systems, invisible fences, data communication systems, private water systems and gas piping to a garage.

If you do not know what facilities are on the property, look for clues to tell you what might be underground, like a propane storage tank, gas meters, a detached garage or outbuilding with lights, a grill or pool on the property, manhole lids, storm drains and pavement patches.

Once all underground utilities have been located, it is time to start digging, but be sure to wear the proper protective gear before putting the shovel into the earth. Remember, there is no project too small or task too menial that you shouldn’t take the proper precautions before digging. For more information about digging safety, visit illinois1call.com and SafeElectricity.org.