Source: Utility Safety Partners - Mike Sullivan
In March 2005, the Common Ground Alliance in the United States secured 811 as the three digit dialing number for Call Before You Dig. It was a monumental and positive shift for the damage prevention process, public safety and the integrity of buried energy and utility assets. “811” became the envy of damage prevention communications across Canada who recognized the benefit of cross-border promotion. With so many transmission pipelines delivering product into the United States, the benefit of a single safety message that could cover two neighbouring countries would have a massive, positive impact.
However, in July 2005, following an application by Alberta Health Services to the Canadian Radio-Television Commission (CRTC), 811 was assigned by the CRTC as the three-digit dialing code for Telehealth services. It wasn’t until three years later that the provinces of Quebec, British Columbia and the Yukon Territory adopted it and only in 2015 did all provinces finally do so. In those provinces that did adopt the 3-digit TeleHealth code, there was very little promotion. However, the Canadian Common Ground Alliance (CCGA) believed it could help promote 811 while giving it a dual purpose – dial 811 and “press 1” for TeleHealth and “press 2” for locate.
The CCGA’s idea attracted attention. Both the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association (CEPA) and the Canadian Gas Association promoted the path forward and provided assistance to the CCGA securing resources to hire an Ottawa-based telecommunications lawyer that could navigate the CCGA’s application for shared use of 811 through the CRTC. The CCGA submit its application to the CRTC July 15, 2011 and waited what seemed like a very long time for the regulator to render its decision. On March 22, 2012, the CCGA received its answer - Application denied.
It was a devastating blow to an organization still in its infancy. We had worked very hard on the submission and promoted the benefits of shared use of 811 across the country. At the time, only a few provinces were using 811, but we were confident we could help promote, proliferate and implement it where it wasn’t yet in use for the benefit of all Canadians.
However, there was always a Plan B.
Shortly after the CRTC’s announcement, I delivered a presentation to a senior CEPA Steering Committee. They wanted to hear about the CRTC’s decision, its impact and what the CCGA planned to do. I recall assembling my PowerPoint slide deck the night before and making a mock-up of “Plan B” and when I showed it to them, I vividly recall a senior representative from TransCanada PipeLines (now TC Energy) asking me, “Why didn’t we do this in the first place?”
Plan B was ClickBeforeYouDig.com. I secured the URL, less than a month after the CRTC rendered its decision, for about $25 and my mock-up showed the senior leadership committee how the website would act as a portal by simply clicking on the province where you were working and commence the locate request process. Everything was switching to the web back then and it just made sense.
So, to answer the question from the TransCanada senior leader, the reason we didn’t do this in the first place is because we tend to think linearly. We get wrapped up in an idea because it’s already done. Sometimes, though, being forced to think outside the box is the best thing that can happen to you.
At the time in Canada, the percentage of locate requests placed on the web was well below 50% and One Call Centres employed large teams of Agents answering phones during regular business hours interpreting digging locations that were being provided to them by a person on a phone line. The ClickBeforeYouDig call-to-action changed all of that. It opened up the locate request process 24/7 and allowed the person digging to indicate precisely where their digging project was going to take place. Less interpretation improved locate request integrity and reduced damages. Across Canada today, almost 85% of all locate requests are made online.
Dare to be different. It usually pays off.