QUINCY -- The 11th day of the eighth month of the year is recognized as National 811 Day, meant to remind professional excavators and homeowners to always call 811 before digging.
Ameren Illinois urges people to call anytime they will break ground, regardless of the extent of the project. Although 811 is a national number, when Illinois residents call, it connects them to the Joint Utility Locating Information for Excavators, or JULIE. Last year, Ameren Illinois received more than 400,000 JULIE notifications.
"I don't think people realize how much stuff is underground," said Gina Meehan-Taylor, Ameren Illinois public awareness supervisor. "I can't tell you how many lines have been hit by pounding a stake in the ground. It happens more than you'd think."
When residents or excavators call, JULIE determines if the property has buried lines. If so, a dig ticket is issued, and, within two days, Ameren dispatches the company USIC to mark the location of the line.
"It's very simple and free," Meehan-Taylor said. "Anytime you break the surface of the earth, you should call."
Even after all underground facilities are marked, digging within the tolerant zone -- 18 inches on either side of the line -- must still be done by hand.
Striking underground lines have disastrous effects. Cutting into one of Ameren's half-inch plastic gas lines could potentially cause an explosion in the location or along the route of the line. Cutting into an electric line could mean electrocution.
Anytime a line is cut, the services being provided could go down in an entire neighborhood. Digging before calling 811 is illegal, and Meehan-Taylor said a person could potentially face fines and repair costs if he or she digs into a line without calling first.
"You need to do it every time you dig," she said. "It's the law."
Meehan-Taylor said people who think they may have struck a gas or electric line need to call Ameren Illinois right away. If they smell gas or believe they may have caused a leak, 911 needs to be called immediately.