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Safety, From The Ground Down

Celebrating Safe Digging Month

April 2023

by B. Scott Crawford, president & CEO, Virginia 811

For the utility and excavation industries, April is a significant month. Not only do we see the beginning of more consistent warm weather, perfect for construction projects, but we get to celebrate damage prevention and safe excavation for an entire month. This is a valuable opportunity to reflect on the importance of damage prevention and it creates an occasion to draw the general public’s attention to ensure underground utilities are marked prior to excavation.

Virginia 811, as with all notification centers, strives to engage all stakeholders to help protect the underground infrastructure tied to the region it serves. As technology continues to develop at an amazing pace, Virginia 811 is committed to identifying ways to leverage that technology to enhance damage prevention efforts.

Of course, contacting Virginia 811 includes a host of options, beyond simply dialing 811. Those excavating in an area confined within the boundaries of a single address can use the Virginia 811 website (va811.com) to process a locate request. Professional excavators can utilize training available through the Virginia 811 Academy, also found through the website, to set up a Web Ticket Entry (WTE) account and process locate requests on their own through the ticket entry platform.


Of course, the overall accuracy of a locate request is non-negotiable. To better ensure overall locate request accuracy and quality, Virginia 811 has worked with Virginia Tech to create an artificial intelligence (AI) model that audits WTE locate requests at 100%, directing requests that may contain errors to team members who can review the locate requests and take action if needed. Artificial intelligence models can play, in the future, additional roles in overall Virginia 811 operations. It is planned that later this year there will be some use of chatbots to help stakeholders with requests for information.

Other ways AI can support operations include speech analytics where a model can identify possible inaccuracies within a call or a failure to verify information, translation services to support communication with individuals who do not speak English, and even helping to create content through natural language generation.

Looking further into the future, augmented, and even virtual reality may prove somewhat revolutionary in regard to allowing the availability of unique visualizations of both construction and underground utilities in excavation areas.

In 2018/2019, Virginia 811 successfully conducted a pilot project where it tested augmented reality that allowed locators to review a construction area that included imagery of basic excavation activity. For example, a locator could scan the area of excavation prior to locating utilities using the camera function on a smartphone.


Augmented reality (AR) images of trees that were being planted appeared, allowing the locator to better understand where excavation was occurring. The locator could then mark lines and using the AR imagery, take a photo of the marked lines juxtaposed with the AR imagery to add to the manifest. This imagery would then indicate the approximate location of utility lines with the AR imagery of the excavation project.

With significant steps being taken by a host of vendors to allow AR imagery of actual underground utilities to be available, it is hoped that at some point in the future locators and excavators, using smartphones and/or smart glasses, will be able to see an excavation site with AR imagery showing both projects and utilities. Such visualization can add to overall damage prevention.

Finally, technology has greatly improved damage prevention awareness through marketing and education efforts. Geofencing is used to make marketing material related to contacting 811 available to people located within certain distances of home improvement stores. Search histories will direct 811 content to individuals searching specific topics, such as “do it yourself ” projects. And of course, robust social media campaigns provide an easy way to engage stakeholders.

April is an exciting month. Excavation will be gaining momentum and we get to celebrate Safe Digging Month. Be safe — and be sure to get the word out about how important it truly is to dig safely.

For more, visit va811.com.